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Cornflower Blue

Cornflower Blue

Invincible

Hailing from Ottawa, Ontario, these guys do American roots rock better than most of the acts you’d find in the lower 48, primarily because they refuse to be kept in any one genre or fashion. Led by the vocals and guitar of Trevor May and Theresa McInerney, the group can go from twangy alt-country of “Way Down Town” to the full-on thrash of “Catherine”, which is a bit like what you’d imagine Bob Mould would sound like if he played a Telecaster and laid off the electronica.

The secret weapon on Invincible is the soaring violin of Deanna McDougall, whose melodic lines lift numbers such as the Cowboy Junkies-ish “Long Walk Home”, reminding you a bit of Rolling Thunder-Dylan and his work with Scarlet Rivera. And when May and McInerney sing together, such as on “Around My Heart” or “Snowed In”, you can’t help but be reminded of the great Richard and Linda Thompson duets. Their tribute to the Bakersfield sound on “The Ballad of Don Rich and Buck Owens” is a hella-fast romp with some nifty Richian twang fills, while the acoustic title cut tells of “feeling invincible on the playground”.

Cornflower Blue break out of the standard roots pack with good songs, great guitars and that sublime fiddle. A little bit Bottle Rockets, a bit of Sugar, mixed with a healthy dose of twang make Invincible a can’t miss. That’s an order!

www.cornflowerblue.com

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Music Reviews

The Drams

The Drams

Jubilee Dive

New West

Denton, Texas alt-country band Slobberbone may have called it a day in 2004, but three of its members have gone on to bigger and better things by forming The Drams. If Slobberbone was like a drunk, sloppy estimation of early Uncle Tupelo, Jubilee Dive takes a quantum leap into poppy Wilco territory. Singer and lead songwriter Brent Best, guitarist Jess Barr and drummer Tony Harper from Slobberbone are joined by keyboard player Chad Stockslager and bassist Keith Killoren — both from Dallas’s Budapest One — on an ambitious collection of mostly great tunes.

You might not even recognize Best’s vocals on the harmony-laden opener “Truth Lies Low,” a bright, anthemic indictment of technology and consumerism that showcases Stockslager’s piano and assorted keyboards but doesn’t skimp on the guitar power. Second track “Hummalong” proves to be eminently hummable and features a great nagging guitar riff. It sounds something like the best Soul Asylum song they never wrote (back when they used to be any good.) “Don’t pave your path after anyone/ Where’ve they been before?/ You’ll play your song and they’ll hum along/ Straight-face, straightlaced, sore/ Face down on their floors,” Best sings. “Unhinged” is impossibly catchy as well, with pounding piano, gang vocals and buzzy guitars. The Drams also offer “You Won’t Forget,” a bouncy and ambitious suite, with a string and horn section interlude and some twinkly electric piano.

“Holy Moses” is a soulful Southern prayer with a surging piano and organ chorus and extended guitar pyrotechnics. Best’s vocals are more recognizable on “Fireflies,” a jaunty, Texas border-flavored number. “There’s good times to be had if you let ’em/ See the beauty being where we are/ Appreciate the fireflies maybe just in case/ You never see the stars,” he sings.

On the rough-hewn, acoustic guitar-based “September’s High,” Best seems to offer an assessment of how the nation’s post-9/11 resolve turned into the bitter quagmire of Iraq: “You keep saying you’ve been trying/ No denying, you’ve been wronged/ But there’s a million people crying/ Stop your lying, just come home.”

Best looks back on his rock-and-roll past with something less than fondness on “Shortsighted” and “Wonderous Life.” The former evokes life on the road in a band: “Let’s play the shit joints/ Let’s just make up the songs, as we go along/ Let’s do the right thing/ Just because it feels wrong.” The latter is an unflinching, graphic, Technicolor grotesque of the perils of alcoholism.

At 14 songs — six of which extend beyond the five-minute mark — Jubilee Dive is an overlong record and “Make a Book” may be one too many songs done in the band’s gang-sing style. It’s a character-driven, Thin Lizzy-like number with some inventive guitar work but at that point in the record, it’s just too much. They could have cut this one and a couple of others and come up with a more concise musical statement. As it is though, Jubilee Dive dramatically expands Best and company’s musical horizons and provides a slew of ear-catching tunes with something to say.

The Drams: www.thedrams.com

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Music Reviews

Cary Hudson

Cary Hudson

Cool Breeze

Black Dog

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.

Cary Hudson: www.caryhudson.com • Black Dog: www.blackdogrecords.com

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Music Reviews

Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain

Tonight It’s Now or Never

DCN

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.

DCN: http://www.dcn.com • Blue Mountain: http://www.bluemountainmusic.com