Cary Hudson – Down from the mountain
The phoenix of ancient legend reached the age of 500 and then burned itself on a pyre. From these ashes, a new phoenix arose. For Cary Hudson, there is resurrection all around. The former co-leader of Blue Mountain has a new band, a new album, and a new wife, who is expecting a baby in August. Hudson’s solo debut on Black Dog Records is titled, appropriately enough, The Phoenix.
“This is the third time that I’ve started fresh,” Hudson says from Route 1 studio in Monticello, Mississippi, where the album was recorded. “I had a band called the Hilltops, and then Blue Mountain, and now this is a fresh start. I think I’m coming into it like Kevn Kinney says, ‘scarred but smarter.’
“After having done this for twelve years, I’m surprised at how excited I am about still doing it. I’ve been really lucky [regarding] the people I’ve gotten to play with in the past, particularly the Stirratt twins, John and Laurie, who are both just great people and great musicians. So I feel very blessed to have done that, but I’m also glad to be doing something new.”
The cowpunkish Hilltops teamed Hudson with Laurie and John Stirratt. The trio released a 1989 cassette titled Holler and a 1991 CD, Big Black River, which was reissued by Black Dog in 1997. The group disbanded when John departed and joined Uncle Tupelo (he later became the bassist for Wilco, a position he still holds).
Hudson and Laurie Stirratt got married, lived in Los Angeles briefly, formed Blue Mountain, and then returned to Mississippi. In 1993, they released a self-titled disc independently. Several of these tunes were re-recorded for the band’s exceptional Roadrunner debut, 1995’s Dog Days. With Hudson on lead guitar and vocals, Stirratt on bass, and Frank Coutch on drums, Blue Mountain forged a roots-rock sound that encompassed the twang of classic country, the droning blues of R.L. Burnside, and the thumping crunch of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
The band toured extensively and recorded two more Roadrunner discs, Homegrown (1997) and Tales Of A Traveler (1999). For tours, Blue Mountain expanded to a quartet, with George Sheldon playing bass and Stirratt moving to rhythm guitar. The band released an album of traditional songs, Roots, last year in the wake of the dissolution of Hudson and Stirratt’s marriage. They toured for a few months in support of the release, but eventually the marital split led to the breakup of Blue Mountain as well.
Hudson’s new trio is rounded out by bassist Justin Showah and drummer Ted Gainey, who played in the final touring incarnation of Blue Mountain. Although some industry experts encouraged Hudson to continue using the Blue Mountain name, he refused to do so.
“I felt like that name really represented me and Laurie as a band,” Hudson says. “I just didn’t think it would be right to continue using it if she wasn’t associated with it — because that was a partnership. I was the main songwriter and I sang lead, but it was definitely a partnership. She was as much a part of the band as I was.”
For his solo debut, Hudson included eight original tunes and a feverish cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel number “God Don’t Never Change”. This diverse collection includes a rollicking party anthem (“High Heel Sneakers”); a pedal-steel-laced rumination on relationships (“Lovin’ Touch”); a heavy slab of cock-rock braggadocio (“Mad, Bad & Dangerous”); and a philosophical self-examination set to a folk-rock beat (the title track).
Another highlight is the earnest “By Your Side”, which could be interpreted as a celebration of earthly love or of heavenly love. “It did start off as a love song,” Hudson acknowledges, “but then it turned into a gospel song, and I’ll just leave it at that. It ended up being a bit of both for me. Usually when something has a double-entendre, it could be about sex or bananas, either one. But this song could have been about [romantic] love or God, and when I realized that, I kind of stretched the gospel thing a little bit in the lyrics.”