BLUE MOUNTAIN at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Tuesday (June 5), 9:45 pm. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
when it comes to recording, the best results often aren't planned.
Having mercifully been released from the bind of a good record deal gone bad, Oxford, Mississippi's, Blue Mountain decided to record and release a quick 'n' dirty covers album to have something out while they scrounged for a new label and a replacement for their road-worn drummer, Frank Couch.
So, taking a tip from Harry Smith's Anthology Of American Folk Music, they booked time at Fat Possum's Money Shot studio and knocked out their favourite Appalachian chillers and dusty blues jams learned from Son Thomas and Junior Kimbrough.
What they wound up with is the fabulously unfussy Roots (Square Dog) album and a heap of reviews raving about how it's the finest record they've ever done.
Listening to the way they get down Crazy Horse-style on Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair and then saw into the celtic soul of Banks Of The Ponchartrain, it's hard to argue with the "career best" assessments.
"We really love traditional music," explains bassist Laurie Stirratt from a stop in Nashville, "and we've always talked about doing something like Roots. The first music I ever heard that gave me chills was the Carter Family. When we finally got out of our Roadrunner deal, it seemed like the right time for us to try something else.
"The amazing thing is that just as we were getting ready to release our Roots album, Dave Alvin and Dolly Parton put out traditional records of their own, and of course the O Brother soundtrack became huge. The timing of our record couldn't have been any better if we'd planned it."
The best thing about Blue Mountain's approach to the traditional repertoire is that the songs don't sound like dusty relics. Few people who hear their overhaul of That Nasty Swing would ever guess that the greasy grind was originally cut by Cliff Carlisle some 70 years ago. It sounds more like Jon Spencer than Jimmie Rodgers.
"At first we were a bit concerned about how the old songs would work in our set, but they fit in really well. Just about every night someone asks if we wrote That Nasty Swing or Banks Of The Ponchartrain. Maybe it's because I'm from New Orleans -- I don't know. We found out it's an Irish tune.
"I'm naturally attracted to things that sound really raw, which is why I like the old, traditional stuff, but we thought it would be pretty boring to try to recreate it.
"Fat Possum's Bruce Watson was a great choice for a producer. He got some really great sounds, especially on That Nasty Swing. We've been fans of Son Thomas, R.L. Burnside and especially Junior Kimbrough for a long time, so that was bound to come out of us eventually.
"Seeing Junior in that roadhouse of his in Chulahoma was like no other experience I've ever had watching someone play music. Friends of mine had their car batteries removed and sold back to them for $20, but I never had anything but good times there. These 90-year-old dudes would say, "C'mon, honey, let's shake,' and, man, they'd dance better than any of us!"