Cary Hudson: The Phoenix

Jason MacNeil

Cary Hudson

The Phoenix

Label: Black Dog
US Release Date: 2002-04-16
UK Release Date: 2002-05-20

No stranger to the music industry, former Blue Mountain singer and songwriter Cary Hudson is out to prove he can stand on his own. The initial version of Blue Mountain featured future members of Wilco, so it should come as no surprise that Hudson is an expert of the alt-country genre, however cliched that might sound. After eight years and five albums with the band, not to mention the constant touring and recording with side projects, Hudson has made a fresh and excellent first step.

With the help of drummer Ted Gainey and bassist Justin Showah, Hudson kicks this nine-song album with the murky Cajun twang on "High Heel Sneakers". Not to be confused with the classic Gene Vincent instrumental, this song closely resembles a cross between a country John Fogerty circa Blue Ridge Mountain Rangers and the Black Crowes circa Southern Harmony And Musical Companion. The funky '70s "wah-wah" guitar only adds to the groove created early on. "By Your Side" returns to a roots rock Americana feel in its guitar and rhythm arrangement. The track could also draw comparisons with another up-and-coming alt-country group the Dark Horses. Robert Chafee's piano work that is sprinkled through the song also gives it a Rolling Stones country tinge to it.

The swaying waltz of the title track isn't quite as strong as the opening numbers, but it's also an excellent song nonetheless. Here Hudson takes a more melodic approach to the song despite the lyrics not being stellar. "I'm just the same / Life's just a game to me", he sings over a traditional country beat and harmonica. "Bend with the Wind" has a rockabilly core but could also be compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Call Me the Breeze". Hudson also writes some of his best lyrics on the album during this rollicking track. "You might catch up with me one of these ole days / But guess chicken squat I ain't afraid / Cause dyin' ain't so tough as livin' like a whore", being a prime example. Hudson also shows some of his fine guitar playing near its conclusion.

Unfortunately like most albums, the "hump" song or song in the middle of the record, "Lovin Touch", is not exactly up to par. A sparse and moody track that features Hudson giving a rather bland performance, the only redeeming quality is an occasional brief harmony with Justin Showah. It resembles a song that might fit well on Shelby Lynne's breakthrough album, but definitely not on this record. "Butterfly" is a big improvement on the previous song, as Hudson tends to give more of himself vocally and in the subtle guitar solos. The song could also be compared to Canadian alt-country group the Cash Brothers at its happiest. There is also a lot of flow to the song and it thankfully is allowed time to breathe, clocking in at over five minutes.

"Mad Bad & Dangerous" has too much of a snarl and sneer to it musically, especially lyrically, to be considered a great tune. "God Don't Never Change" is surprisingly good with its handclaps and its gospel thread that runs throughout it. The song also refers to the "tribulations" that took place last year in New York City and Washington, D.C. without being too overt. What is another high point is the blues country on the acoustic-oriented "August Afternoon", which sounds like Showah is playing a standup bass. Tommy Bryan Ledford is also strumming an acoustic guitar. If there's one negative to the album, it's one or two songs short of being excellent. They say that two out of three ain't bad, but I'll take eight out of nine any day.

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