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If insurgent country is ever going to become the next big thing, it’ll take more than Wilco and Son Volt to shoulder the burden. Judging from its second album, Homegrown, Blue Mountain is poised to offer help. While its 1995 debut Dog Days was a fine nod to Neil Young’s Harvest period, filled with ragged guitar riffs and country pride, the Oxford, Miss., trio’s latest takes a darkly Appalachian turn. The opener “Bloody 98” has more in common with the music of 16 Horsepower than with that of any of the more popular country-rock ensembles. And Homegrown’s best songs, like the raw-boned “Black Dog” and “Last Words of Midnight Clyde,” are steeped in Southern mythos. It’s an identity Blue Mountain wears well; Cary Hudson’s whiskey-throated vocals lend themselves perfectly to the group’s often bleak sketches of rural Mississippi life. Blue Mountain hasn’t entirely abandoned the formula that won Dog Days such acclaim—”Generic America” has an unshakable melody, and numbers like “Babe” are downright bucolic—but not all the changes are positive ones. The most obvious loss is the absence of bassist Laurie Stirratt’s fragile backing soprano on all but a few tracks. And the been-there-done-that criticism that applies to so much of the “new” roots rock can’t be fully evaded here, though Blue Mountain is far less derivative than acts like Wilco. The simple fact that it’s exploring a different vein of American roots music—and doing so on Homegrown to great success—is enough to qualify Blue Mountain as the best thing out of Oxford since John Grisham, with clear potential for much, much more.

—Joshua Green