It’s understandable for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour to feel a sense of celebratory hangover in the wake of its high profile 500th broadcast last week. And, to be sure, host Michael Johnathon and crew had every right to make that milestone broadcast an event. But truth be told, last night’s considerably more reserved program with Oxford, Mississippi Americana trio Blue Mountain and Scottish folk stylists Old Blind Dogs reflected more of what the show does best. In comparison to last week’s party, the mood last night at the Kentucky Theatre was more relaxed even though the evening’s intercontinental music makeup was just as intriguing.
Blue Mountain was once a modest Lexington favorite thanks to regular late ‘90s gigs at the long-gone Lynagh’s Music Club. Having disbanded in 2001 following the divorce of guitarist Cary Hudson and bassist Laurie Stirratt, Blue Mountain became a working trio again with longtime drummer Frank Coutch last year.
The five songs the trio played last night – three came from the new Midnight in Mississippi album, the remaining two from a collection of re-recorded versions of vintage tunes called Omnibus – sounded unexpectedly reserved when referenced alongside the mighty roar the band used to summon in concert.
There were still hints of the beast, of course. Skinny Dipping, a tune from Midnight to Mississippi with a winding guitar riff that sounded like a cross between Creedence Clearwater Revival and Junior Kimbrough, suggested the band could have busted the stage up had it been fully let loose. But there was also a noticeably settled sound to Blue Mountain’s overall sound last night, whether is was in the Beatles-esque guitar sway (think Abbey Road‘s Sun King) in Butterfly or the even warmer stride at the heart of 1995’s Blue Canoe that became more discreetly luminous.
Armed with jigs, pipes, whistles, fiddles and an obvious fluency in Scottish folk tradition, Old Blind Dogs revealed a wicked progressive streak in its rhythmic foundation with drummer Fraser Stone playing predominantly hand percussion on djembe and guitarist Aaron Jones sticking exclusively to bouzouki.
That didn’t make a medley of jigs titled Sky City sounded any less devout or driven. But in instrumental workouts like The Wild Rumpus, it did allow for keen syncopation – a chant-style dressing, almost – that gave the music a worldly air. Still, hearing fiddler and band founder Jonny Hardie compliment the cheery harmony set in motion on Star o’ the Bar by the newest Old Blind Dog, flutist/ Ali Hutton, was the set’s biggest delight.
But the show’s most generous overall treat came during its encore section when Hardie provided a subtle but still rustic fiddle accent to Blue Mountain’s Soul Sister. For four exquisite minutes, “the old country” visited North Mississippi. What a world.