As a fan of Hudson’s former band Blue Mountain, I have to say I was a tad disappointed with his first solo album, 2002’s The Phoenix. Somehow the sweetness and personality were lacking on that low-key affair, despite the presence of his usual gritty southern slide-blues guitar. Fortunately, the follow-up is a return to form that compares favorably with Blue Mountain’s repertoire and takes Hudson’s musical approach to another level.
Opener “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” is sheer slide-blues mayhem and reckless abandon. It serves as a nice bookend with the set closer, “Some Things Never Change,” which has the wistful, nostalgic feel of Hudson’s best Blue Mountain work. “On the hood of a car looking up at the stars/Talking ’bout starting a rock and roll band/Strange as it seems/I still see it in my dreams,” he sings.
Hudson is joined by the same band that played on The Phoenix, drummer Ted Gainey and bassist Justin Showah. They’re showcased on the stomper “Free State of Jones.” And they assume a soulful groove for “8 Ball Blues,” a tune about a pool player who loses his touch because he drinks too much. Hudson also offers the acoustic ballad “Don’t Hasten Away.” “Nothing good can last for long, unless it lives on in a song,” he sings. Even better is the sweet acoustic lullaby “Little Darlin’,” which finds Hudson lamenting life on the road, away from the kids.
“What the Old Man Told Me” has a spooky intensity that oozes Hudson’s Deep South roots in Mississippi. Hudson’s smoking guitar and world-weary voice bring the tune home. He’s also able to inject his personality and humor into what could have been a fairly generic blues exercise like the album’s title track. And he’s clearly having a good time with the hard-edged raunchy groove of “Jellyroll.” On the other hand, “Haunted House Blues” sounds more like homage than anything else. And “Bay Street Blues” is fairly ho-hum standard singer/songwriter fare.
Overall, it’s good to have Hudson back on track. Cool Breeze has the blues in the best possible way. It’s the kind of record that makes you want to go on a road trip somewhere down south.