Rediscovering the Joy of Discovery: Blue Mountain’s ‘Dog Days’

I admit, this gig has its downsides. In balancing numerous features that require extensive listening and research, I rarely have time these days to listen to music recreationally.

Granted, that’s still not necessarily a complaint, as even within those moments of “work,” there’s still plenty of moments of joy to be found. It’s one thing to take modern releases as they come and let them connect as they will (or won’t), especially given the hyperdrive of today’s album release schedule that can make one numb to greatness, or take it for granted, at the very least. But there’s something special about reaching back in time to make a personal discovery.

It’s a twofold statement. In researching Lyle Lovett and Neko Case’s respective discographies for my Fifteen Favorites series, for instance, there was a thrill of anticipation in perusing their collected works, both beforehand and during the actual listening process. And it’s a feeling heightened when an act has amassed critical praise and success over the years – decades, even – like they both have; you just get the feeling you’re in for something special. It’s a chance to listen to something that can open your mind to new possibilities, where regardless of whether or not you understand why this particular act has amassed such a following over the years following the actual listening process, you still walk away with newfound perspective – and, hopefully, find true greatness along the way. Even beyond that, it’s just revelatory to join with the crowd either way.  

Blue Mountain Dog Days

More than that, however, it’s a feeling that hits differently. Maybe it’s because it’s more personally driven and distanced from the modern-day hype cycle, where thanks to good marketing and PR, seemingly everything these days is an instant classic. But taking a chance for yourself to listen to a past release that’s had its time can provide a rare, hard-to-explain thrill if it sticks. It may no longer be new, but it’s new to you and that’s what counts. You want to listen more because, well, you want to listen more – not because you feel like you have to or need to appreciate what a particular act is doing; it just comes natural.

And in explaining the other part of that aforementioned twofold statement, that difference is especially heightened when taking a chance on an act that’s relatively unknown or forgotten these days, where only the most diehard of fans are keeping their memory alive. For as much as playlists and algorithms dominate that discovery process these days, there’s an undefinable magic in receiving a recommendation from a friend or like-minded colleague who shares similar tastes as you. The only downside, of course, is that there’s little room for discussion with friends in the way that modern releases allow for, because it’s always about moving on to the next thing, or just maybe hasn’t the widespread commercial impact to be able to start a discussion. The best you can hope for is to pass it on and hope someone else enjoys it as much as you do.

Where is this all leading? Well, I had planned to spend this weekend catching up with albums in my backlog to review for this week, as well as plan other features. But I ended up getting sidetracked in a way I haven’t allowed myself to in a while, by taking a chance on alt-country act Blue Mountain. For as much as I’ve written about the ‘90s alt-country movement before, I admit this was a band that slipped my radar as far as the actual listening process was concerned.

And in going through their history, I actually think it’s somewhat understandable. They were a Mississippi-based band primarily built around the husband and wife team of singer-guitarist Cary Hudson and bassist Laurie Stirratt (along with numerous drummers, the most prominent one being Frank Coutch) and most active in the ‘90s. But, like most acts of the time, greater mainstream recognition just never came, and following Hudson and Stirratt’s divorce, the band broke up in the early 2000s (the band would reunite later on in the decade, but as of now they’ve once again dissolved and have focused on solo work).

I can’t recall how or when, but I do credit this discovery to Farce The Music. And in going through their most well-known project, Dog Days, my first reaction is that they have the feel of one of those bands you’re supposed to discover years and decades after the fact (all the more fitting, given that album title). I started with “Blue Canoe” and proceeded to check out the album, and even a few days later, I still can’t place my finger on just why this album has gripped me as well as it has. It’s very of its era in how it’s a sonic melting pot of country, punk, blues, and rock with enough distortion to go around, all melded together in a surprisingly consistent and cohesive package. And Hudson’s voice very much has the emphasized twang that’s come to define similar acts in this vein of this era. I can’t even say there’s any one particular area that’s especially impressive on a technical level.

But maybe that’s the point. This is one of those albums where the mood feels casual and unhurried, where the youthful exuberance comes to define its spirit but not in a way that’s necessarily reckless, even despite its brasher punk moments. Maybe it’s the nostalgic moments that show on the more country-inspired tracks, like the odd, wistful mix of both fond and melancholic remembrance of “Wink,” or the rollicking innocence of “Eyes of a Child.” Maybe it’s how relaxed the grooves are in letting this sprawling album really cut loose effectively, especially on tracks like “Let’s Ride” or “A Band Called Bud” with their several excellent solos.

Or maybe it’s because they’ve got a fantastic compositional bedrock as a whole here, where the rollicking grooves and sticky melodic hooks become this album’s anchoring point and main weapon. “Blue Canoe,” for instance, their most well-known song, is just a simple, sunny, rattling summer tune that almost feels like it doesn’t belong within this particular subgenre. But there’s just enough rougher texture in the acoustic, electric, and bass grooves weaved together perfectly as well as Hudson’s delivery balanced out with Stirratt’s added harmony for that hook to fit regardless. It’s remarkably catchy in every regard, and I haven’t been able to stop playing it since I first heard it – a hit that never got to shine as bright as it should have.

That’s the thing about the writing on this album, too. It’s detailed in its imagery and progression, but more often than not, the core is simple – anchored mostly by its wistful nostalgia on tracks like the mandolin-driven “Mountain Girl,” the sharp “Soul Sister,” or the roiling stroll through musical memories on “ZZQ,” the memories sepia-toned in how they can connect with you regardless of the differing experiences on record. And when the harmonica blasts through as often as it does, that catharsis is amplified.

That’s not to say it doesn’t run long or lose momentum toward its end: “Hippy Hotel” and “Special Rider Blues” both opt for funk and blues-driven sentiments but meander too often and don’t come together as well as the punk and country-driven moments. Between “Mountain Girl,” “Let’s Ride,” “Blue Canoe” and “Wink,” too, it’s an album front-loaded with its most ambitious and diverse moments. But the general consistency in tone and mood coupled with the sticky melodies and hooks has led to so much replay value for me regardless – and will continue to, as well. Blue Mountain may no longer be around, but nearly 30 years after this album’s release, I can at least say there’s one person excited to dig in further. This is what this gig is all about.

This is, in a weird sense, my way of also launching a new feature in which I’ll discuss albums that are new discoveries for me. It will likely be more sporadic than other features here and may not be as review-focused, but you never know what just might happen. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all next time.

7 thoughts on “Rediscovering the Joy of Discovery: Blue Mountain’s ‘Dog Days’

  1. Discovery from humans is a differemt animal then an algorithm.

    Some recs. Some I’ve written about, some not. Not saying these are all amazing, but all were noteworthy in some aspect or another.

    Ken Yates- Quiet Talkers (2020), Cerulean (2022) (folk)

    Country Style – Dean Martin (1963) (Nashville sound/50s pop except it Dean Martin!)

    Wagonmaster- Porter Wagoner (2007) (an end of life album similar to American records just without the hype)

    Stronger Ties- Mason Lively (2018) (somewhat contemporary country with a twist)

    Bo Armstrong- Chasing Ballads (2020), if your tired heart is aching (2022) (Americana for gen z)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I went through a Alt Country phase in my early 20’s and still enjoy that music from time to time. I got this album as it was considered a ALT country classic. This is a perfect “Summer” album. I listen to it a lot when we go to the cabins every summer or go hiking. The first 5 songs I go back to all the time. “Blue Canoe” should’ve been a hit for someone. It’s insanely catchy!

    Liked by 1 person

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