Cary Hudson spent eight years and five albums as co-leader of Blue Mountain, so the songwriter wasn't exactly in need of a coming-out party. Nevertheless, his first solo outing would have provided a doozy of one. The Phoenix, like its mythic namesake, comes out blazing with a song that arguably has spawned a whole new music genre. It might accurately be coined "glamabilly." "High Heel Sneakers" sweats with attitude, part Mott the Hoople and part honky tonk. The slide guitars are greasier than a biker's hairbrush, but the words could be construed as vaguely androgynous, while the sentiment is entirely lascivious. The band, a three-piece, plays the heck out of the song. It may be from the bad side of town, but it gets the album started on the right shoe. Other tunes are just as gritty and potent. "Bend With the Wind" is a nasty, sardonic dismissal, perhaps a few whiskeys past a good drunk, but delicious, hilarious, and brutally honest in the way only a guy picking himself off the juke-joint floor can be. "Mad, Bad & Dangerous" and the sacrilegious "God Don't Never Change" are awesome heavy blues cuts that could have come from Free had the British rockers dieted on grits and cornbread, with Hudson giving Paul Rodgers a run for his money in the vocal department. No matter how hard the band rocks, however, they are always pure country in the old, true sense of the word -- right down to their soul. The album is authentically deep south, a beautiful confluence of Nashville, Memphis, and Mississippi. This mix is especially evident on the album's slow and mid-tempo songs: the delicate but rugged "By Your Side," a tougher version of the Byrds; the lovely, wind-swept balladry of the title track; and the beautiful little back-porch blues ditty "August Afternoon." Hudson has the ability to sound worldly, despairing, earnest, and snarling all at once, like Alex Chilton with a hangover. But the Big Star frontman never made a solo record as gorgeous, unsparing, and accomplished as The Phoenix.
The Phoenix Review
by Stanton Swihart