Blue Mountain

Midnight in Mississippi

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Of the major bands of the first wave of alt-country in the 1990s, not many are still alive and kicking in 2008. Uncle Tupelo bowed out early, Wilco has evolved into something great but barely recognizable to early fans, Son Volt seemingly exists when Jay Farrar feel like it, the Jayhawks are but a memory, the Bottle Rockets are a part-time concern, and Whiskeytown imploded so Ryan Adams could become the world's only Deadhead who hangs out with Oasis. So the return of Blue Mountain should come as a welcome surprise to longtime fans of the rowdy side of roots music, and the band's first album since calling it a day in 2001, Midnight in Mississippi, is a solid reminder of what this trio does so well. Midnight in Mississippi sounds a bit less raucous than Blue Mountain did in their salad days, though not by much; the rough rock & roll of the title cut and the slinky blues guitar of "Skinny Dipping" are as potent as anything this band has ever cut, and if most of the songs follow a smoother path, Cary Hudson's tales of good love, raising hell, and getting by are every bit as compelling (and ring just as true) as they ever did. Hudson hasn't lost a bit of his confidence as a singer or a guitarist, and despite lots of water under the bridge bassist Laurie Stirratt and drummer Frank Coutch are still an admirably tight and sympathetic rhythm section. Some of these songs point to ghosts from Blue Mountain's past -- the protagonists of "Skinny Dipping" would have been right at home in "Hippie Hotel," and the nomadic rockers from "A Band Called Bud" could well be the younger version of the wild-haired characters in several of these tunes. But Midnight in Mississippi finds Blue Mountain maturing without getting stiff or stale; the lessons learned during the group's layoff are faint but clear, and these folks still know how to make their simple, forceful vision of American music communicate. It's good to have them back, especially when they're still sounding this strong.

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