Fresh from his success with “Million Dollar Quartet,” the Broadway musical based on the fabled Memphis recording session featuring Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, roots rocker Chuck Mead returns with “Back at the Quonset Hut,” another history-conscious project. Named for the Nashville studio where George Jones, Patsy Cline and many of country’s biggest stars recorded, Mead and his band, including members of the city’s original A-Team of session players, revive the loose, genial vibe of the Quonset Hut’s ’50s and ’60s heyday.
The mood here is upbeat and infectious, with Mead and company abandoning themselves to the grin-inducing, honky-tonking likes of Hank Williams’s “Settin’ the Wood on Fire” and Carl Smith’s tongue-twisting “Hey Joe,” the latter done as a duet with country great Bobby Bare. A droll take on Del Reeves’s truck-driving classic “Girl on the Billboard” is equally inspired. And Appalachian music revivalists Old Crow Medicine Show lend support on a clarion remake of Roy Acuff’s “Wabash Cannonball.”
A couple of well-placed weepers offer welcome changes of pace. The first, a cover of Bobby Austin and Johnny Paycheck’s “Apartment #9,” reveals the typically sanguine Mead to be equally adept at conveying heartache. The other ballad, a fiddle-sweetened take of “Sittin and Thinkin’,” is as self-deprecating and tender-hearted as Charlie Rich’s original. Best of all, perhaps, is the set-closing “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries,” a sexy romp with Elizabeth Cook that — to borrow a line from another steamy duet — is hotter than a pepper sprout.
“Hey Joe,” “Apartment #9,” “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries”