Blue Mountain – Oxford Blue: Making a Mountain out of Mississippi Mud
The deal calls for five records, which might have been more than Stirratt wanted, but she says the band is interested in having a long career, not making a big splash. “I hope when I’m 60 I’m still playing, so I really don’t mind putting out as many records as possible. I would have preferred a three-record deal, but you’ve got to give and take. And the five records, that’s fine.”
Hudson says the slow-growth plan will hopefully also help with the time-consuming and sometimes painful process of songwriting. “(Writing songs) is a lot of work. In fact it’s so much work that I put it off a lot.” He’d like the band to stay out of the trap that many bands fall into when they become successful. “I think a lot of bands get so busy that they don’t have time to work on the songs,” he says. “They get more popular, and ironically enough, their songs get worse. Hopefully, that won’t happen to us.”
Produced by the very busy Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Bottle Rockets, Go To Blazes, etc), Dog Days was recorded quickly — two weeks — and mostly live. Stirratt is happy with Ambel’s job and with the album, especially having the luxury of getting the sound right compared to the more slapdash way the first album was recorded. “He managed to get us relaxed and let us do pretty much what we wanted. There were only a few things he was adamant about.”
Dog Days travels the entire spectrum of Blue Mountain’s influences. With Ambel adding mandolin, acoustic guitar or a second lead, some of the softer tracks on the album, like “Soul Sister” and “Blue Canoe”, exude a full and summery sound. “ZZQ”, “A Band Called Bud” and “Slow Suicide” rely on a stronger, more Hilltops-like influence. “Jimmy Carter”, which Hudson wrote as much as an homage to the bicentennial summer of 1976 as to the Georgian president, is a pure country hoedown. “Let’s Go Running”, with its soft, sad guitar, emphasizes Hudson’s plaintive lyrics: “Have you ever met a stranger / On the corner of your bed?” Even Skip James’ blues jam “Special Rider” gets a twirl on the disc.
Because Blue Mountain is a trio, many of the softer touches on the album disappear live. It’s an issue Hudson and Stirratt understand. “I wonder sometimes about people who come out to the shows and have only heard the record,” Hudson says. “I can see someone saying, ‘That’s not what I was expecting at all.’ ”
Yet the harder-edged live show reveals another side of the band. It showcases the strong working relationship between Hudson and Stirratt. The couple has been playing together for eight years, and it clearly shows live. Hudson’s electric guitar playing melds cleanly with Stirratt’s bass lines. Her sweet backing vocals stand out as one of the few soft touches that remain from the album. After employing a series of drummers, they’ve settled on Coutch behind the kit.
“We really enjoy being a three-piece band,” Stirratt says. “You don’t see many bands playing the music we do (as a trio). We’ve always been a three-piece and we’ll stay that way for awhile.” The band does plan to work an acoustic set into the show and include some more rock tunes into the next album to give a more even representation of the band.
Blue Mountain recently received a showering of good reviews and some Triple-A radio play after the late July release of Dog Days. Magazines from Billboard to CMJ expressed admiration for the solid roots sound of the album. Hudson admits that the mini-boom of roots-rock bands, Gavin’s Americana chart and Triple-A radio could put the band at the forefront of a developing format.
“But there’s another side of me that doesn’t really give a shit if it happens or not,” he says. “If we always kept playing at a small level, I wouldn’t really care. Just as long as I don’t have to work a day job. What more could you ask, really.”
Both Stirratt and Hudson approach this band as part of a long career. “That’s the good thing about music, too. If you don’t become a heroin addict, you can age really slowly,” Hudson says. “I was hanging out with Gary Louris (of the Jayhawks) recently …. and in the course of the conversation he mentioned that he was 40. Now that blew my mind. Gary doesn’t come across as what you’d think of as a 40-year-old. He looks great and he’s got a very youthful outlook. A music career is good that way. It kinda keeps you in that state of perpetual adolescence.”
An extended adolescence may soon take the form of an old-fashioned European trip for the band. Dog Days recently sold 75 copies in one week at a one Paris mega-record store, an extraordinary amount, according to Pachman. There’s also been interest and airplay in Germany. A short tour may be in the works for the spring.
As for Willie — he’ll probably miss the overseas trip and return to Mississippi to rediscover his roots, much like Blue Mountain did. “Cary’s sister is coming up to Oxford to go to school, and we may leave Willie at home with her,” Stirratt says. “We do take good care of him, but the road is hard for him.”