For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records
Bloodshot Records BS-112
The idea for Bloodshot Records was hatched back in the early 1990s over a bunch of beers between three music loving friends. For rock fans Rob Miller, Nan Warshaw, and Eric Babcock, each of whom had dabbled in the business of music, it was the combination of fading interest in the grunge scene and the smattering of upstart bands beginning to fuse their music with a roots and country sensibility that first set the wheels in motion. Add to that the discovery of some of the classic, hard-bitten honky tonk music originating from their home base of Chicago and the concept for Bloodshot Records was born. That concept became reality both innocently and ambitiously with the various artists compilation called For a Life of Sin, the first release to carry the label’s imprint. Featuring ghostly cover art from Jon Langford (Mekons) of yesteryear hillbilly heroes like Uncle Dave Macon, Hank Snow, and Bob Wills along with a skull or two, it was a picture which attempted to convey the rebel aesthetic of the Bloodshot vision. In particular, music that falls between the cracks of the sidewalk of American music be it honky tonk, punk, thrashgrass, or rip-roaring roots rock. The 17 tracks comprising For a Life of Sin did the rest embracing the indie spirit of Bloodshot while at the same time setting the stage for the insurgent country tag the label soon bestowed upon itself. Unafraid to push the boundaries at the expense of commercial success, what Bloodshot really needed was a band to hang its hat on. Enter the aforementioned Langford of British punk band The Mekons fame who had relocated to Chicago from England and begun his “Clash meets Cash” side project called the Waco Brothers. Bloodshot would release the first Waco Brothers record in 1995 and for all intents and purposes, a movement and a label were born with that release. Now here in 2005, Bloodshot Records is still going strong. Frankly speaking, 11 years as an independent record label that has compromised little or nothing of its original vision is certainly something to crow about. That is exactly what the label does with the double-disc anniversary celebration compilation For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records. A 42-song extravaganza featuring only new and previously unreleased recordings, the celebration brings together tracks from both current and past Bloodshot recording artists as well as those who while not necessarily signed to the label, are certainly with it in spirit. From the Bloodshot past and present comes tracks from the aforementioned Waco Brothers (a very fitting “I Fought the Law” especially when considering the band’s Clash leanings), Split Lip Rayfield, Devil In a Woodpile, Wayne Hancock (who is joined by Hank Williams III), Nora O’Connor, Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys, Sally Timms, Graham Parker, Kelly Hogan, The Meat Purveyors, Paul Burch (who teams with the legendary Ralph Stanley on the classic “Little Glass of Wine”), The Yayhoos, The Bottle Rockets, Bobby Bare Jr., and the Old 97s. Among the non-Bloodshot artists joining in the celebratory fray are an impressive bunch that includes My Morning Jacket, Richard Buckner, Sixteen Horsepower, Mary Lou Lord, Cordero, Milton Mapes, Minus 5, and the Handsome Family. In all, there’s a lot of music here that hits the various genres head on, not to mentioned filling the those cracks. And while you may be tempted to hit the skip button on something that may not hit the spot, it is hard not to be moved by the spirit of independence that Bloodshot Records has eschewed since its birth. Cast your vote by checking out For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records. (Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618, or www.bloodshotrecords.com)
David Allan Coe
Lots of country singers have either personified the bad hombre image or sang songs about it. In David Allan Coe, you had the genuine article who did hard time and then got out and proceeded to both write and sing about it. The 1968 album Penitentiary Blues was Coe’s treatise on life behind bars and we’re not the kind the kind of bars where the shelves are filled with spirits. As popular as he was controversial, Coe was an intimidating and at time grating personality renowned in Nashville in those days for tooling around Music City in a Hurst (and even going as far as to park it outside the Opry and grab some shut-eye on occasion). Consider Penitentiary Blues one of those forgotten gems where the only chance up until now to nail a copy of the LP was likely at a neighborhood yard sale or flea market. Those days are now over with the reissue of the album for the first time on compact disc. Featuring songs brandishing titles like “Cell #33”, “One Way Ticket to Nowhere”, “Funeral Parlor Blues”, “Death Row”, and “Oh Warden”, it is not surprising to that all but one of the 11 songs comprising Penitentiary Blues were composed by Coe during what was his eighth consecutive stint in prison. Arguably the ultimate outlaw record from arguably the ultimate outlaw in country and western music circles (and predating by about five years the official ushering in of the outlaw era in country music), Penitentiary Blues was a gritty, razor-edged recording mired deep in a tough, working class brand of blues on which Coe sings the part to perfection. Hearing it again some 37 years after its original issue, simply put, it has aged remarkably well.
Penitentiary Blues represents the first release for the new HackTone record label. Begun earlier this year, it is a label whose stated mission is to track down artists and albums that were misunderstood or mistreated in their time and re-marketing them as new releases for a new audience. If packaging means anything, HackTone is obviously also interested in delivering a quality product on all fronts. The reissue comes in a digipak that replicates the original die-cut, gatefold of the original LP which featured a photo of Coe behind bars that lifted away when the front cover was opened. The reissue also features not one, but two booklets. First up is a new essay from noted music historian Colin Escott with a new introduction handwritten by Coe himself. Also included is a second booklet titled “David Allan Coe’s Guide To Surviving In (And Out) Of Prison” which is an excerpted from his out-of-print book, Ex-Convict. Classify Penitentiary Blues as an excellent first choice by the HackTone folks. Here’s hoping they dust off more gems like this. (Hack Tone Records, 3650 Helms Avenue, Culver City, CA 90232, or www.hacktone.com)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)<...