One of the best songs on Blue Mountain's triumphant new album, "Tales of a Traveler," is "Lakeside," the tale of two teenagers leaving small-town Mississippi for a spree in New Orleans. Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt, the husband-and-wife team that wrote the song, are from small-town Mississippi themselves and they sing the sweet country-rock tune with the intact exuberance of teenagers discovering the wider world for the first time. The song's immediacy derives not only from the evocative lyrics about Spanish moss and water tanks, but also from the infectious melody, the bouncy beat and the sheer hunger of the vocals.
The same immediacy comes through on every song, whether Hudson and Stirratt are singing about the ache felt for an absent lover ("When You're Not Mine" and "The One That Got Away"), about an alcoholic, saxophone-playing patriarch ("Poppa"), about a fondly remembered childhood ("Comicbook Kid"), about the strange allure of the woods ("Hermit of the Hidden Beech") or about approaching mortality ("Death Is a Fisherman" and "Just Passing Through").
With the addition of bassist George Sheldon, Blue Mountain has gone from a trio to a quartet, and co-producer Dan Baird of the Georgia Satellites helps give the fast tunes a thickened thump, the slower tunes a moody minimalism. Hudson and Stirratt borrow widely and wisely--grabbing elements from X, Johnny Cash, Lynyrd Skynyrd, J.J. Cale and especially Neil Young, both in his pretty acoustic and noisy electric phases--but they give it all backwoods Mississippi spin and make it intensely personal. The result is the best roots-rock album released this year by someone not named Miller.
Appearing Wednesday at the Garage.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Blue Mountain, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8104. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)