Was 1993 really so long ago?
It seems like almost yesterday when Oxford, Mississippi's Blue Mountain arrived on the alt-country scene.
With songs such as "In a Station," "Soul Sister," and "Let's Ride," the band carved a niche for itself nearly a decade before groups such as Lucero and the Drive-By Truckers made their mark. Led by the husband-and-wife team Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt and anchored by drummer Frank Coutch, Blue Mountain effortlessly straddled the chasm between country and rock to serve up tunes that were equal parts Carter Family and Neil Young.
Then, after five albums, Hudson and Stirratt decided to call their marriage — and the band — quits. But the pair put aside their differences for a reunion tour that kicked off in St. Louis earlier this year.
"We had sorta talked about [reuniting the band] once before, but it wasn't the right time for us. Then we got two e-mails, one from a European promoter and one from a friend of ours who was putting on a festival in St. Louis, and they asked us to play dates within a week of each other. So we were like, let's get together and see what happens," Stirratt says.
"Cary and I had been on good terms for a while, and it felt great, like we'd never quit playing," she says. "Both of us realized how important some things are. Cary is a great person, and I love him dearly and consider him a close friend, so I'm glad we're able to get to this point. Frank is really enjoying it, too. He's always been super-enthusiastic."
The reunion tour has been a major coup for fans, who have followed the band's various solo careers — Hudson's released three solo albums, including last year's Bittersweet Blues; Stirratt records with the group Healthy White Baby, with her twin brother, Wilco bassist John Stirratt; Coutch plays drums in The Preacher's Kids — even as the alt-country phenomenon has slowed to a near-halt.
During Blue Mountain's peak, says Stirratt, she didn't realize how popular the band was.
"We were making a living, which was awesome," she says. "Afterwards, it was hard knowing that Blue Mountain sold X amount of records, and our solo albums didn't sell as much. I can only speak for myself, but it's been a lot harder than I thought finding a group of people to play with that I have that same chemistry with. It caught me off guard, for sure."
Recapturing that chemistry with Hudson and Coutch proved to be the easy part, Stirratt says.
Blue Mountain's latest hurdle — transitioning from a one-off reunion project back into a full-time band — has proven slightly harder.
Hudson currently resides in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, but after spending the last several years in Chicago, Stirratt has leased a place in Taylor, an artists' community located just south of Oxford, where Coutch still lives. The trio plan to tour hard this fall, then get back into the recording studio for their first sessions since their live farewell, Tonight It's Now or Never, was released in 2002.
"I don't want this to be a nostalgia thing," Stirratt says. "We've got to keep moving forward. We're about to book some studio time for November. We need to write some good tunes and take our time to make a kick-ass record."
Local faves Jeff Evans & Ross Johnson and The Wallendas will open for Blue Mountain when they take the stage at the Hi-Tone Café Wednesday, September 5th.
"I moved to Memphis in '99, so I got to see them twice before the end," says guitarist Jeremy Scott, who played bass with The Reigning Sound and Harlan T. Bobo before forming the Wallendas with guitarist Jim Duckworth, bassist Grayson Grant, and drummer Steve Parkinson last year.
For the last several weeks, the band, which enlisted Chuck Vicious to record a handful of demos back in January, has been holed up at Rocket Science Audio on Cleveland, laying down tracks for a debut album.
"Hopefully, by October, we'll have it recorded and mixed, and we'll have it out before the end of the year," Scott says. "I'm excited about the Blue Mountain show, because I never thought I'd be able to see them again. I'd be [at the Hi-Tone] anyways, so to get on that bill is great."