An occasional feature showcasing excellent music by little-known artists who (generally) only put out one or two albums.
It’s raucous. It’s communal. It’s a rock n’ roll summer camp!
Back in the 1990s, Chris Hudson, cousin of Americana/roots band Blue Mountain’s leader Cary Hudson, had a small record label called Black Dog. In the summer of ’98, most of the artists on that label gathered at Black Dog’s studio in the hot, swampy woods of southern Mississippi to play music, jam, and generally have a good time. The brothers Bielanko of Marah tend to dominate the recorded proceedings, like crazed camp counselors high on who-knows-what and let loose to burn down the cabins while leading a joyful sing-along. In short, the feeling is loose and often on the edge, yet somehow the musicianship is always top-notch.
Wilco’s John Stirratt drops in for a song (his own “Not So Far Away”), followed by a redo of one of Cary Hudson’s old songs, “Big Black River” – originally by the Hilltops, the band Stirratt was in with his sister and Hudson a decade earlier. The ties of family and friendship run deep on these tracks, and the song is given a high octane run through, that black river of highway turning into a rushing river of rapids.
Marah, being from Philly, are the only northerners in this camp, a circumstance used to advantage on Serge Bielanko’s “Grey & Blue” – a historical Civil War tale where Hudson and Bielanko exchange verses, representing the Confederates and Yankees respectively, and showing how, even in war, people are people and their similarities are sometimes greater than the differences.
Rock & Roll Summer Camp was supposed to be an annual occurrence. As it turned out, another never happened and Black Dog is long gone now, with this CD and a handful of other mostly great individual artist releases surviving as reminders of a time fading ever quickly in the rear-view mirror.