CD Review of Bittersweet Blues by Cary Hudson

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Bittersweet Blues
starstarstarstarno star Label: Black Dog
Released: 2006
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He isn’t a household name, but Cary Hudson has been making his presence felt in roots-rock circles since the early ‘90s, when he and then-wife Laurie Stiratt started making music as Blue Mountain. If you recognize Stiratt’s last name, it’s because she’s the twin sister of Uncle Tupelo/Wilco bassist John Stiratt. Consider that Hudson has also shared a stage with Steve Earle, and that he helped Marah find a record deal, and you get the picture: this is an artist long on critical acclaim, and frequently one degree removed from No Depression royalty – but he hasn’t had his own coming-out party yet.

Which is probably fine with Hudson. He’s neither as restless as Jeff Tweedy nor as topical as Earle, but he’s arguably better than either at framing exceedingly personal stories in universal terms. Album opener “Snow in Mississippi” is a great example – the details seem wholly autobiographical, but the overarching idea, that time moves too quickly and you often don’t appreciate what’s moving past you until it’s already gone, is one shared by pretty much everyone over the age of 30.

In terms of sound, Bittersweet represents a further paring down for Hudson, who has been hewing closer to “roots” than “rock” since Blue Mountain dissolved. (For an additional frame of reference, imagine Peter Case’s best moments as a solo artist.) This is his quietest, simplest set of songs yet; not coincidentally, it may also be his most powerful. This is partially owed to outside events – a man doesn’t survive a divorce and a hurricane without having a few stories to tell afterward – but the most important ingredient is Hudson himself.

~Jeff Giles