Tonight It’s Now or Never
Oxford, Mississippi roots-rockers Blue Mountain have called it a day as a band, but this two-CD live document recorded in Chicago last year has all the qualities that made them one of the most consistently interesting alt-country-oriented units of the late ’90s. Blue Mountain mainstays (and former husband and wife) Cary Hudson (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Laurie Stirratt (bass, guitar, and vocals) are joined here by drummer Ted Gainey for a set that includes highlights from throughout their entire career. They even take on a tune from their previous band, The Hilltops, which also included Laurie’s brother (and future Wilco bassist) John Stirratt.
The band’s final studio album of mostly traditional tunes, Roots, is highlighted prominently, with Stirratt providing nice harmonies on tracks like the opening English folk song “Young and Tender Ladies.” On other tunes, she sounds like Exene to Hudson’s John Doe. And on The Carter Family’s “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes,” you can almost hear them singing on somebody’s back porch in Oxford.
But it’s not all mellow folk-y stuff here. Hudson and Gainey also bring a rollicking cowpunk feel to “Bloody 98” from 1997’s Homegrown. That album’s “Black Dog” and “Jimmy Carter” from the band’s 1995 release, Dog Days, might have fit in on one of the early Uncle Tupelo records.
A couple of highlights come early on with “Lakeside,” a terrific song about going to New Orleans from 1999’s Tales of a Traveler, followed quickly and appropriately by the traditional “Banks of the Ponchartrain,” with Hudson’s strong voice and Gainey’s reverbed drums leading the way.
Hudson is a phenomenal guitarist, whether he’s playing Delta slide blues on tunes like “Let’s Go Running” and “My Wicked, Wicked Ways” or rocking things up on the band-on-the-road anthem “Sleepin’ in My Shoes” and the punky, very modern “Generic America.” He even coaxes some freakish sounds from his guitar on the set closing “Go ‘Way Devil.” And Hudson can both give voice to the yearning of the characters in earthy, homespun tunes like “Myrna Lee” and “Poppa” and effectively build the drama in songs like the spooky murder ballad “Rain And Snow.”
It’s a shame that Blue Mountain is no more, but we’ve got plenty of music to remember them by. And Hudson and Stirratt both deserve much success in their future ventures.