With news of its purchase by Exceleration Music, it’s a good time to shine a light on some of the Chicago label’s deepest gems
With the news of Chicago’s Bloodshot Records’ purchase by Exceleration Music – an investment fund fronted by a variety of music figures – it’s a good time to shine a light on some of the music, some real gems, the indie label released over its 25 or so years. Bloodshot was famous for releasing music that was country with a punk edge. Where it’s headed next is currently unknown. Here’s why it garnered fans worldwide.
Its most famous release is probably 2000’s Heartbreaker, the solo debut of Whiskeytown frontman Ryan Adams. With sales of more than 300,000, it’s most likely the indie’s best seller. It not only put the label on the national map, but it also allowed them to thrive in the 21st Century. Another important find was Virginia’s Neko Case whose initial releases on the label, especially her first The Virginian, were more traditional country-based than her later art-rock ala singer/songwriter work.
Working with Jon Langford–best known as a member of post-punk Brits The Mekons–certainly raised the label’s name recognition among music fans. Langford took several guises while working with the label: the politically minded Waco Brothers, the country covers ensemble Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and as a duo with fellow Mekon Sally Timms. The Wacos were renowned for their shows at Bloodshot’s parties at South By Southwest in Austin where they ended a long day of free beer with a set that was equally explosive and inebriated.
While not as well known here’s a collection of albums that are worthy of attention, a set of discs that’ll scratch your roots-rock itch from a bunch of artists around the country showing the depth and importance of Bloodshot’s catalog.
Country Love Songs (1996)
After contributing to the compilations that gave Bloodshot its start, Chicago via North Carolina’s Fulks appears fully formed. Engineered by Steve Albini and backed by the Skeletons, his songs are retro, but his songwriting is masterful among his alt.country peers, telling stories in ways that were delightfully tuneful.
Cowboy Sally EP (1997) and Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments For Lost Buckaroos (1999)
Timms’ first release for Bloodshot, an EP of covers, is worth it simply for her soaring version of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind.” The LP contains a couple of co-writes with Jon Langford, but also songs from the Handsome Family (a Bloodshot and Chicago favorite), Robby Fulks, and Johnny Cash. With an all alt.country backing band, Timms creates country music for people who don’t think they like country music.
The Meat Purveyors
More Songs About Buildings And Cows (1999)
An Austin-based female vocal-led quartet that neatly fit into the Bloodshot square peg. Their second effort found them perfecting a brand of alternative bluegrass with room to cover Bill Monroe, Lou Reed, and the Pocket FishRmen. The album title pokes fun at the Talking Heads while showing this was one band that did not take itself seriously.
Beneath The Country Underdog (2000)
Although best known as a backup singer with Neko Case and the Decemberists as well as a member of eclectic 80s Georgia group the Jody Grind, Hogan’s debut for Bloodshot found her working with Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. It’s a blinding array of covers from Johnny Paycheck, Willie Nelson, and Conway and Loretta. While the highlight is her dulcet reading of the Magnetic Fields “Papa Was A Rodeo,” the entire LP proves Hogan to be among the foremost interpreters of country music of the day.
A Man Under The Influence (2001)
Arguably Escovedo’s best studio recording in a career that’s spanned several record labels. From the gorgeous slow build of “Wave” to the guitar rage of “Castanets” to the slinky Ian Hunter shaped “Velvet Guitar” to the elegant mood of “About This Love” Escovedo, producer Chris Stamey, and an all-star cast weave a rock and roll spell both rare and compelling.
Starving Winter Report (2006)
From the rock and roll bastion of Detroit, the Deadstring Brothers were a bit of stretch for the Bloodshot label with more of a Rolling Stones/Georgia Satellites vibe to their sound. Still, their first record for the label stood out with more than enough swaggering roots music to please all comers. Lead singer and songwriter Kurt Marschke unequivocally finds the balance between country and rock and the album builds with each tune, making for a listen absolutely more than its parts.
Ha Ha Tonka
Death Of A Decade (2011)
Another band that found the label branching out from Chicago with outstanding results, Ha Ha Tonka takes their name from a state park near their home among the Ozarks of Missouri. They blend the Replacements, Old 97s, and the folkie side of Neil Young into an updated version of Americana with serious harmonies and anthemic melodies to match and make it sound easy.
Old 97s – Wreck Your Life
Pine Valley Cosmonauts – …Salute The Majesty Of Bob Wills
Split Lip Rayfield – Never Make It Home
The Sadies – Tremendous Efforts
Bobby Bare Jr. – Young Criminals’ Starvation League
Mark Pickerel – Cody’s Dream
Barrence Whitfield & The Savages – Dig Thy Savage Soul