"Listen, man, I know that alt-country stuff is big up there," a friend from Mississippi told me. "But Cary Hudson is a country motherfucker, from back when country wasn't cool." I can't argue--Homegrown (Roadrunner), the second album by Hudson's wonderful trio Blue Mountain, is the real item, a collection of hoedown rock and country death ballads as sharp and heavy as apple cider. Hudson grew up in rural Mississippi and went to school at the state university in Oxford, where he played in the regionally beloved Hilltops with twins John and Laurie Stirratt; after John quit the band to join Uncle Tupelo (and later Wilco), Hudson formed Blue Mountain with Laurie. The two got married and moved into a ramshackle house on the outskirts of Oxford, and most of Homegrown sounds like it was made out on the porch after supper (though in fact it was mixed by Tom Petty associate Jim Scott in LA). "Bloody 98," the shuffling rocker that opens the disc, is a hellish tale of white-line fever along the logging road that leads from Mobile to Hattiesburg--a road lined with makeshift crosses for people who've died on it. "Black Dog," a train-engine tune, was written for the couple's pooch, Willie, who barks on cue to punctuate Hudson's raucous slide-guitar solo. "Myrna Lee," a gorgeous ballad by John Stirratt, highlights the husband and wife's sweet harmonies and Hudson's fluid picking; throughout the record he's equally at home playing banjo, mandolin, and electric and acoustic guitar. And on "Town Clown," an acoustic waltz, Hudson confesses his eerie vision of a ghost "with a big red nose and little green teeth / Singing a song with a lopsided beat." Like Oxford itself, Blue Mountain is an oasis of neatness and gentility, its edges eroded by darkness and superstition. Saturday, 10:15 PM, FitzGerald's (at the annual American Music Festival), 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. J.R. JONES
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Wilson.