Return to Blue Mountain

Back in 1993, I was briefly living in Charlotte, North Carolina, and one of my favorite local bands was the HardSoul Poets (later to morph into the band Jolene). Twice that summer they brought some friends of theirs from Mississippi to open shows for them, a band called Blue Mountain. All I remember of those sets was the blistering, Neil Young style guitar squall of lead singer and guitarist Cary Hudson, but their sound didn’t change much in the years after that. They went on to put out a couple big-label albums, including 1995’s excellent Dog Days and the followup Homegrown, which are considered classics of the 90’s alt-country scene.

Like many bands, they broke up and the trio headed separate ways–Cary to do several solo albums, Laurie Stirrat and drummer Frank Coutch to other projects. This year, the band reunited for the Twangfest festival in St. Louis, and they’ve been playing shows together again ever since, with plans for a new album already in the works.

I tell you all that to tell you this, as the saying goes…They played here in Columbia Wednesday night, to a very small but enthusiastic audience at the Hunter-Gatherer pub. Hudson was impressed with the surroundings, commenting from the stage, “What a cool place,” as he looked around at the two-story brick and glass surrounding him. From my vantage point at a front table, the lone stuffed hyena perched atop an upstairs window sill was an eerie echo of the canine on the cover of Dog Days.

The show was a loose affair, perhaps the band was feeling comfortable with the small crowd, but they seemed more like they were playing for fun than putting on a ‘show.’ Not that Blue Mountain was ever about much more than the music–no light shows or pyro for them, just great song after great song. That’s what they brought to the table on this night, too, and the intervening years just fell away in the face of both the classic songs like, “Blue Canoe,” and “Soul Sister,” as well as the half-dozen new songs they tried out on the crowd.

Cary is still an incendiary guitarist when he wants to be, and the blues-oriented slant of his solo material has obviously influenced some of the new songs with the band, so at times it was like being transported to a Mississippi juke joint like Junior Kimbrough’s, which Hudson referenced in the lyrics of one such tune.

Seeing Blue Mountain again after their long hiatus was like striking up a conversation with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while–some topics were the same, but there were new subjects to cover, too, and after a few minutes the years in between fell away and it was back to just being good friends, sharing a beer over good music.

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