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Blue Mountain returns with new album 'Midnight'

Blue Mountain returns with new album 'Midnight'

For seminal alt-country band Blue Mountain _ torn apart by divorce _ breaking up was hard to do. Getting back together, it turned out, was pretty easy.
The Mississippi trio will release its sixth studio album, "Midnight in Mississippi," along with a re-recorded greatest hits album, "Omnibus," on Tuesday. It's an event fans would not have imagined seven years ago when the band broke up after singer-guitarist Cary Hudson and bassist Laurie Stirratt split.
It's not a scenario the band envisioned back in 2001. But when the organizers of a festival broached the idea in the spring of 2007, Stirratt and Hudson decided to give it a try.
"Enough time had past," Stirratt said. "It took me a while to let things go. You just have to work through that stuff. It takes a few years. Divorce is really awful. A lot of people go through that more than once and I don't know how they do it. I mean once was enough for me."
Though their personal relationship is gone, their chemistry isn't. "Midnight in Mississippi" picks up right where the band left off. It's full of the kind of songs that made the band, with Frank Coutch on drums, one of the most popular of the reactionary movement against pop country.
They return in an era when country music _ and the music industry as a whole _ seems to have lost its way again.
"We're in this time when you have to be young and pretty. We've gone back to that," said Grant Alden, co-founder of the alternative country champion No Depression magazine.
Back in the early '90s, Blue Mountain joined bands like Son Volt, Bottle Rockets and Freakwater in a group that served as a second generation of country outlaws. The music sounded a little like country, but was influenced by the blues and rock 'n' roll and came with a distinctly anti-Nashville attitude.
Blue Mountain appeared on the cover of No Depression's second issue.
"There were a lot of people 10 or 15 years ago who were putting on funny clothes and playing some kind of country music who were dabbling," Alden said. "Blue Mountain was really authentic. They were blending country, blues and rock in an interesting way that only two or three bands were doing."
After an early unsuccessful stint in Los Angeles in the early '90s, Hudson and Stirratt returned to northern Mississippi and realized they didn't need to live in a big city to find what they wanted. They started Blue Mountain, signed with a New York-based label and thrived in Oxford's vibrant scene.
"It was one of the most happening places culturally in the country," Hudson said while tearing into a bucket of crawfish and shrimp before a recent solo show at Jackson's Crawdad Hole. "Fat Possum Records was based there, so you had R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and all those guys. And Oxford had this literary scene with Larry Brown and Barry Hannah. There was a lot going on and we were kind of musically in the center of it."
And they quickly became a star in the burgeoning alt-country scene. But like the record industry, Blue Mountain returns in a time that seems to have forgotten its roots rock.
That movement, as Alden says, "is diffuse at best now."
Rather than signing with a label, the band is putting out "Midnight in Mississippi" and "Omnibus" on the Stirratts' private label, Broadmoor Records. In their first incarnation, Blue Mountain benefited from a little corporate muscle.
This time around, they realize things will likely be different and have tempered their expectations.
"There's probably going to be periods of time where I'm probably not going to be making enough money from music and I'll have to get an additional job," Stirratt said. "I mean that's how things have changed. Before we sold enough records and we made enough money on the road where we could really not worry about that for a while. Live show attendance has been up and down for everybody, not just for us. We've been lucky because we still have the markets where we did really well and we're still doing really well, but that could go away too."
There have been encouraging signs for the band, which has been touring sporadically since that original reunion show at St. Louis' Twangfest.
"It's been overwhelmingly positive," Hudson said. "I have to say the one thing I'm glad to see is we're also picking up some younger fans, people who have heard of the band but never seen us or heard about us from their older brothers and sisters. Because if we were just playing to our old fans, those people are like in the 30s and 40s now, so they've got kids. You know they're not packing the clubs anymore."
"Midnight in Mississippi" should appeal to all kinds of music lovers. Produced by Grammy winner Stuart Sikes, whose previous credits include Cat Power, The White Stripes and Loretta Lynn, the album mixes mellow pieces with a few of the band's trademark rockers that propel its blistering live show.
Hudson is a master storyteller who moves between poignancy and humor with the same kind of ease he moves from acoustic to electric guitar. The album's best moments come when Hudson is working his slide, driven along by a feverishly bouncy beat from Stirratt and Coutch.
Despite early misgivings, Hudson and Stirratt are happy to be back together with Coutch after solo runs. They can finish what they started on their own terms, something most bands fail to do before breaking up.
"I think it's going to be fun and it really, really feels good to be doing it again," Hudson said. "Frank and Laurie are great friends. One of the things that I thought about it was it was kind of unfinished business. We kind of went out with a sigh more than a bang. We want to come back and write another chapter."