Appropriately titled, Cary Hudson’s The Phoenix represents new beginnings. It is his solo debut, his first project in nearly a decade without the moniker Blue Mountain. It is his first album since the dissolution of his relationship with Laurie Stirratt, his partner in music as well as marriage. As with the Biblical myth to which it alludes, The Phoenix is also about transcendence and resurrection, a theme evoked throughout with copious imagery of wind, birds, butterflies, fireflies, et cetera. That said, The Phoenix is by no means a departure from, but rather a logical extension of Blue Mountain (Hudson’s two member backing band is the same incarnation that backed Blue Mountain on its final tour).
The Phoenix is a deftly crafted album that evinces the diversity of Hudson’s distinctively Southern influences which include traditional country, mountain music, gospel and the blues. The album opens with “High Heel Sneakers,” a raucous, slide-guitar laden number that would have likely piqued the sensibilities of a mainstream country audience in the late-‘80s/early-‘90s, as Garth was just beginning his rise to mega-stardom, before country music was completely usurped by scantly clad pop divas. “By Your Side” is ostensibly a love song whose ambiguous lyrics: “In the valley of the shadow I while be right there by your side/Reach out your hand in mine,” imply either a romantic love or spiritual fervor, or perhaps both. In a recent interview with No Depression, Hudson contends that “it started off as a love song, then it turned into a gospel song, and I’ll leave it at that.” With rambunctious honky-tonk piano progressions, “Bend The Wind” is reminiscent of the boisterous mirth heard in The Knitters’ seminal cowpunk “Wreckin’ Ball.” “The Phoenix,” “Lovin’ Touch,” and “Butterfly” elicit a more somber tone, at times using harmonica and pedal steel to underscore the desolation of their stark acoustic instrumentation. These three tracks are later juxtaposed with “Mad, Bad and Dangerous” and “God Don’t Never Change,” two gritty, blues tinged, Southern-rock tunes. The latter being a vivacious cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s sanctified blues that confirms that not only can a white boy sing the blues, but he can sing them damn well. This is, of course, something Hudson has been doing since the beginning of his tenure with Blue Mountain, something fully realized on the band’s swan song album, Roots. The Phoenix concludes with “August Afternoon.” As its title suggests, this song is subsumed with the feel of a sultry late-summer afternoon in Hattiesburg, Mississippi just as a group of musicians has gathered with their acoustic guitars, and whatever else can function as an instrument (the bass takes on the sound of a jug), for an impromptu performance on someone=EDs front porch as their audience languidly sips on a tall glass of lemonade, or perhaps a bottle of Jack Daniels.
As Hudson soars like the phoenix, he remains cognizant of the ashes from which he rose. It is the dexterity with which Hudson melds nearly every form of Southern music that makes him one of the most interesting, and certain the most innovative, contemporary Southern musicians. The Phoenix’s weakness is its brevity. With only nine songs clocking in at a little more than thirty-six minutes, it leaves the listener desiring more.
Cary Hudson: http://www.caryhudson.com