For Americana fans who've worshipped at the altar of No Depression magazine, Cary Hudson may be best known as the frontman for Blue Mountain, an Oxford, Mississippi trio who graced the cover of its second issue.
To the rest of us, though, he's more familiar as a singer-songwriter who periodically pulls into town with an old Gibson acoustic, a faithful black hound named Elvis Leroy Boudreaux, and a suitcase full of impressive country-blues originals.
While he's not inclined to brag about it, Hudson holds the distinction of placing higher than Steve Earle and David Rawlings in a Gibson ranking of "Top 10 Best Alt-Country Guitarists." He also has a university degree in a field that never quite panned out for him.
"I have a bachelor's degree in psychology, which qualifies me to wait tables," Hudson says with a laugh, while acknowledging that studying human behavior did have some use-value.
"Actually, going to school and getting a psych degree was great preparation for being a songwriter, it really was. Maybe not for writing country hit songs. I guess it wouldn't prepare you for that."
For Hudson, the road from frontman to solo artist wasn't an especially easy one. He and Blue Mountain partner Laurie Stirrat first played together in The Hilltops, a band that included Laurie's brother John, who's now in Wilco. In 1990, the Hilltops split and the couple moved to Los Angeles, not long before the Rodney King riots broke out.
"We were coming back from Joshua Tree after a great day in the desert," recalls Hudson, who was in fact waiting tables at the time. "It was around midnight and we hadn't been listening to the news, so we had no idea what was happening. It was like going into a war zone and driving through a city that was on fire."
Hudson and Stirrat's marriage lasted 10 years, although Blue Mountain continued intermittently until a final show last summer. By that point, Hudson had already put out five albums under his own name.
"Especially over the last five years, I've really become intrigued by what you can do with just one guy and a guitar," says the artist, who's gotten to play with RL Burnside, Bobby Rush and Big Jack Johnson. "And then having Mississippi heroes like John Hurt and Jimmie Rogers, that's the way I wanted to go."
Hudson's sixth and latest album, the excellent Town and Country, was released last week. The new album features band arrangements with a distinctive Cajun feel, thanks in large part to Hackensaw Boys fiddler Ferd Moyse's prominence on several tracks. "The record was cut in Louisiana," Hudson says, "so that vibe is definitely there."
Actually, Hudson has happily spent the last four years living in New Orleans. It's just 90 miles from where he grew up, and a world away from the city he once watched go up in flames, an incident he sees reflected in the unrest going on today.
"I haven't figured out how to phrase it yet," he says, "but I have an idea for a song that will be about how, if I'm gonna have to live through the apocalypse, at least I'm down in New Orleans."