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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

Categories
Music Reviews

Cary Hudson

Cary Hudson

The Phoenix

Black Dog

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