Cary Hudson – The Phoenix

Cary Hudson
The Phoenix

Although it hasn’t exactly been the banner carrier for exemplary taste in music, with its penchant for cultivating a good ol’ boy, Confederate flag toting, guitar wanking persona, Southern rock has been an amazingly enduring genre. Although the fact that artists like Kid Rock have spearheaded a movement to celebrate all things coming out of America’s trailer culture, we shouldn’t let the original defiantly blue-collar sentiment of the music be obscured by those who think that the Dukes of Hazzard and mullets are the true essence of the South. It helps that every once in awhile we have an artist like Cary Hudson to set the record straight.
Having disbanded Blue Mountain, where he was rightly hailed as an alt-country pioneer, Hudson has set out on his own to make music that is only a lateral step from the rollicking mountain-inspired rave-ups of his past. Coming down from the hills a bit, Hudson has sunk his feet deep in Delta mud with The Phoenix, reviving nearly everything that is good about Southern rock in the process. Even though the wicked, swampy electric slide playing and the redneck metaphors of the opening “High Heel Sneaker” seem to borrow heavily from the Southern rock playbook, Hudson is imminently capable of creating his own. And he does, with the reserved piano and sweetly swaying electric picking of the graceful “By Your Side” and the stately balladry of “Butterfly.” He livens the pace substantially with the rollicking piano boogie of “Bend With the Wind” and the Skynyrd-esque posing of the escapist-themed “Lovin’ Touch.” Happily, it’s not Kid Rock by a country mile, but Southern rock is undeniably encoded in the music’s distinctive DNA.
Of course, Hudson would be somewhat remiss if he didn’t include a few deeply blues-influenced numbers, and he more than meets that qualification with the plodding boasts of “Mad, Bad, & Dangerous” and the shout-along cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Don’t Never Change,” both showing his tremendous range as a stylist as well as testing his limitations as a vocalist. His acoustic country-blues exercise in “August Afternoon,” without a doubt the disc’s standout track, shows Hudson to have a truly exceptional grasp of the difficult form, displaying a deft understanding of the nuance and subtlety that are essential to the music’s distinctive elegance.
Ultimately, many artists working within the Southern rock continuum fall prey to lack of variation in the setlists and a lack of restraints that causes them to surrender to needless fits of guitar wankery. Here, Hudson avoids both, crafting an amazingly balanced and compact set of songs that never linger longer on one mood than they should. In the process, he explores a good portion of the interesting terrain that is to be found in the genre, bringing out the depth that lies beyond the worst of the genre’s redneck posturing and the beauty that can be found in honestly rendered reflections of familiar themes. In the end, he gives hope that not only can the Southern rock clichés of the past be transcended but that the true artistry of the genre can be restored.