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Blue Mountain: run, don't walk

Lounge Ax, Chicago, March 28, 1997

By David Purcell

CHICAGO - Blue Mountain opened its show with a stunning, sparse version of the traditional "Shady Grove."

But the rest of the 21-song set was anything but traditional, as the Oxford, Miss. trio spent the evening weaving rock, folk, Delta Blues, Appalachian and Celtic stylings into their unique southern roots rock stomp.

In the process, they reaffirmed their reputation among alternative country fans as one of the best live bands on the planet. The near-capacity crowd seemed to agree, rewarding the band with increasingly more enthusiastic applause after each song.

In the group's more raucous songs, Blue Mountain turns into a three-headed rhythmic monster - drummer Frank Coutch and bassist Laurie Stiratt lay down a simple but fierce backbeat, while lead singer/guitarist Cary Hudson joyfully sprays open-tuned rhythmic leads all over the stage. If you've never heard Blue Mountain, picture Richard Thompson sitting in with the Ramones on a bluegrass standard, and you begin to get the picture.

Yet, Blue Mountain is not all sound & fury - their mid-tempo rockers ("Mountain Girl," "Blue Canoe") and quiet, soulful country-ish ballads ("Wink," "Eyes of a Child") are as pretty, if not more so, than any you'll find in American music today. The band's ability to master different tempos and dynamics, while also crossing a great deal of musical turf, is truly one of their strengths.

The show marked the Chicago debut of six songs off the band's upcoming "Home Grown" release on Roadrunner Records. The best of these was "Black Dog," a blistering alt.bluegrass stomp and "Generic," a driving piece of pure power pop.

Blue Mountain also ripped through hearty versions of most of the songs from "Dog Days," their debut, as well as a few well-chosen covers ("Amazing Grace," The Who's "Squeeze Box" and an aborted attempt at Television's "See No Evil").

Every song, slow or fast, quiet or rancorous, is played with the same level of infectuous joy and enthusiasm. One can't help but smile watching Hudson shiver and shake as he rips notes out of his Gibson, or listening to Stiratt's gorgeous harmonies ride alongside her husband's soulful lead vocals.

The highlights were many: the set-closing run of "Jimmy Carter," "Blue Canoe," the aborted "See No Evil," ("we'll learn it next time we come," said Hudson, a smile), "Amazing Grace," and "Band Called Bud" was as rocking and intense as any streak of songs you'll find this side of a Jason & the Scorchers concert.

Yet, again displaying their versatility (not to mention their confidence in their quieter numbers, a quality too many bands lack in concert), the band opened up their three-song encore with two relatively laid-back numbers, "Let's Go Runnin'" and "Eyes of a Child."

Things quickly heated back up with a show-ending romp through "Squeeze Box." One gets the feeling that Blue Mountain would've liked to play all night, but the last call curfew prohibited that.

Blue Mountain will be touring extensively to support "Home Grown." Do not miss them when they roll through your town.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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