Cary Hudson – Town and Country
I admit that when Cary Hudson released his first solo album, The Phoenix, in 2002 I was a bit disappointed. I had been hoping for a continuation of the more exploratory, bigger sound that had started to seep into his band Blue Mountain’s music on tracks like “Death is a Fisherman” and “Lakeside” from their album Tales of a Traveler. Some of those songs featured expansive instrumentation like Moog, organ, and horns and seemed to point to some new directions. I thought Roots, the following album of covers of traditional songs, was nothing more than a sidetrack and then they’d be back with something that picked up with a continuation of those sounds that had started to leak in on Tales of a Traveler. After all, bands like Wilco and the Jayhawks had started from a similar point as Blue Mountain and eventually moved away from Americana/alt-country. Blue Mountain broke up before that ever happened, though (if it ever would have in the first place).
So, when that first solo album came out with its back-to-basics sound, and was followed by Cool Breeze, which was even more down-home and earthy, I felt a little let down. There was nothing wrong with the albums for what they were, but I was still looking for the hints of new sounds that were appearing on Tales of a Traveler.
Over time, with more solo albums (as well as a new Blue Mountain album) and beards turning grey (both mine and Hudson’s), I’ve come to appreciate that unadorned, down-home style more and realized it was a big part of why I loved Blue Mountain in the first place. I realized the problem wasn’t with the music, but with my ears and my own expectations. In actuality, Hudson’s solo work has been a natural continuation of what he was doing with his earlier band (he was the main songwriter for them, after all) and he’s continued to grow as a composer, comfortably fitting into the role of backwoods troubadour equally at home in an acoustic or an electric setting.
This is all to say that Cary Hudson has a new solo album out, called Town and Country, and it’s first rate. It’s nothing he hasn’t done before, but that’s okay. He’s mastered a particular style that reminds me of an old interview where he was asked what he would be doing if he wasn’t playing music for a living. His answer: he’d be a novelist or a farmer. Which sums things up perfectly – he writes and sings literate songs rooted in the fields and forests, small towns and gravel tracks of his native Mississippi.
On Town and Country, Hudson and his six-string are accompanied by just drums and bass, as well as his own harmonica. The first three songs feature the fiddle of Ferd Moyse as well. One of those, the aptly titled “Fiddler’s Green”, is Hudson’s take on writing a traditional-Irish-sounding folk song, as filtered through the dust of Deep South back roads and Cajun swamps. It’s an energetic story-song, slightly out of place on the album, but a strong track, nonetheless.
Recorded in New Orleans “on the full moon of July 2013”, the feel of the album is warm and big. Hudson is known for his guitar skills as well as his songwriting, and he gives us everything from snarling six-string electric blues on “Local Honey” to breezy acoustic picking on “Yoyo” (“Baby, I’m just a yoyo for your love”), and borrows the scintillating guitar lick (either consciously or unconsciously) from Robert Cray’s “Smoking Gun” for great affect on “A Storm is Coming”.
He’s been known to revisit songs from previous albums, and Town and Country is no exception. In addition to “August Afternoon”, he does a new version of “Hermit of the Hidden Beach” which originally appeared way back on that aforementioned Tales of a Traveler. In reincarnated form, it’s bare-bones and ghostly, having lost none of its power. The other, “Mississippi Country Girl”, is a recent song from his last album. It’s one of the best songs he’s written, so why not do it again? It’s a real sing-a-long, feel-good tune that makes you want to move to Mississippi if you aren’t already there.
Perhaps Hudson says it best in “Vinyl and Wine”:
Vinyl and wine
Vinyl and wine
Never fail to make me feel fine
I had a bad day
I need to unwind
Baby, it’s time for vinyl and wine
I can think of few better ways to enjoy this new collection of songs — even if it’s not available on vinyl as of this writing — from one of America’s best and often overlooked songwriters and musicians.