Blue Mountain – Dog Days
In 1994, I was lucky enough to pick up the self-titled debut by a trio from Oxford, Mississippi, called Blue Mountain. Released on their own 4-Barrel Records, it was an unassuming but highly impressive little collection of hopelessly catchy blues- and country-tinged songs. There was nothing spectacular about it, but that was part of its charm, and it chased just about everything else off my CD player for weeks. I eventually had a chance to hear the Hilltops, the band that singer/guitarist Cary Hudson and bassist Laurie Stirratt had been in (along with Laurie’s twin brother, John, later of the last incarnation of Uncle Tupelo and currently of Wilco), and that sold me on the talents of the Blue Mountaineers even more convincingly. Now, finally, comes their large-indie-label debut, Dog Days. It’s a fitting title for this record, not only because Blue Mountain are a band that takes their newly adopted puppy on the road with them (and dedicates songs to him), but also because this is as pure a summer record as you’ve heard since …. heck, maybe the Beach Boys. Everything about it — the Delta twang of Cary Hudson’s guitar, the slightly sleepy pace of the songs, the lyrics about canoes and radio stations and driving around — conjures up lazy Southern summer days, and nearly every song here would be a perfect summer radio hit if there in a just world. Lazy is kind of a key word, though, because if I have one complaint about this band, it’s that they have a frustrating habit of not quite taking things far enough. It may have been the knowledge that very few people heard their self-released album that prompted them to re-record five songs from that disc (as well as one from the Hilltops’ only recording, Big Black River) here, but anyone who’s heard the first record will no doubt wish the band had come up with more new songs rather than offering these somewhat lackluster new versions of old songs. And there’s a hint of indolence in some of the lyrics, too, like the verse in “ZZQ” that simply lists classic rock songs of the 1970s. The list is appealingly evocative, especially for anyone who grew up listening to radio stations like the one commemorated in “ZZQ” (i.e., most of us). But it’s also kind of a lazy way to write lyrics. Still, that’s a minor quibble about a mostly great record. It’s too bad the new versions of the old songs aren’t as good as they could be, but they’re still excellent songs, from wistful lost-love tunes such as “Soul Sister” and “Wink” to the more lighthearted “A Band Called Bud” and “Jimmy Carter” (the latter an affectionate, if tongue-in-cheek, tribute to the ex-prez). More importantly, the new songs show that the promise of the first record is developing. I’d bet the farm that “Blue Canoe”, “Let’s Go Running” and “ZZQ” will be running endlessly through your head within a half-hour of the first listen. And what more can you ask of a classic summer record than that?