Blue Mountain – Pine Hill Farm (Durham, NC)
On a short bio sheet in the Blue Mountain press kit, author Larry Brown talks about visiting the house of fellow Mississippians Laurie Stirratt and Cary Hudson and listening to them play in the kitchen. “A man might say it feels right homey here,” Brown concludes.
The kitchen at the North Carolina rental ranch house known as Pine Hill Farm can hold 20 folks tops, so the shows take place some 15 feet away in the living room. It still feels right homey, something the performers will all swear to, especially after they’ve adjusted to the undivided attention of 75 pairs of strangers’ eyes in a well-lit room at 8 p.m. Actually, the four members of Blue Mountain settled in quicker than most: After a two-night stand in a New York club, a Carolina living room probably felt as inviting as an Oxford kitchen. The one big concern was whether Hudson, a cyclone in a bottle onstage, could stand to be further confined to a stool all night.
He managed just fine, thank you, leading Stirratt, drummer Frank Coutch, and bassist George Sheldon (behind a borrowed upright for the occasion) through 25 songs spread out over two sets and two encores. Blue Mountain’s current work-in-progress is an album of primarily traditional folk standards, with an occasional risque interloper such as “The Nasty Swing”, a blue little number from Cliff Carlisle, a Jimmie Rodgers-style yodeler who played Hawaiian steel guitar alongside Rodgers. Thus, amidst enthusiastically rendered selections from the band’s three-album catalog such as “Wink”, the first-set-capper “Generic America”, and “Lakeside”, the Pine Hill crowd was treated to the aforementioned Carlisle tune as well as “Young And Tender Ladies” and “Lakes Of Ponchartrain”, which Hudson learned in a pub in Ireland (I learned it from Peter Case’s Sings Like Hell).
Midway through the second set, my heart, which had been hovering happily all night, took flight. The extra thrust was courtesy of a rustic romp through the Faces’ “Ooh La La”, with all four Mountaineers, and half of the crowd, singing along on the chorus. The soaring continued thanks to an eclectic finish that featured, among others, “Goodnight Irene”, a warm and frisky take on “Jimmy Carter”, Sheldon’s “S.O.B.” from the collaborative Camp Black Dog disc (“Cover up those little ears,” suggested Hudson, looking out for the several youngsters in attendance), “Soul Sister”, and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. By the time the night wrapped with “Mary Jane”, a hurray-for-hemp ode that dates back to Hudson and Stirratt’s Hilltops days, strangers felt a whole lot more like friends.