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Bloodied But Unbowed: Bloodshot Records' Life in the Trenches

(Bloodshot; US DVD: 10 Oct 2006; UK DVD: 13 Nov 2006)

In the video for “Let’s Rock and Roll”, Bobby Bare Jr.‘s haggard mug stares straight at the camera as he offers a humorous, heartfelt, behind-the-scenes look into the rock n’ roll lifestyle: “I live in the floor of a minivan / Driven by drunks across this land/ And I wake up in the worst part of your town/ Drink free beer and sing until I fall down…”  The tune—poppy yet melancholy—mirrors these ups and downs. One mid-song “up” is marked by a noisy freak-out, another features a live scene in which the entire audience mimics Bare’s ecstatic on-stage pogo-ing. 


So begins Bloodied But Unbowed: Bloodshot Records’ Life in the Trenches, an enjoyable, lively—and occasionally exhausting—trip through the first 12 years of Bloodshot Records, the seminal alt-country label.  The DVD’s three-and-a-half hours of videos, live performances, short films, and documentaries exude such infectious energy and depict such a welcome diversity of style and personality that you will not only keep watching—you might begin to pogo with joy. 


Partial to the psychedelic mishmash of textures that The Sadies reliably offer?  “Empty the Chamber” is tongue-in-cheek, with a cinematic grandeur to match the song’s mesmerizing instrumental grain.  The throwback ‘60s feel of the brief “FLASH” showcases the band’s proficiency; as colors swirl across the screen, it sounds as if each member is consistently soloing.


Perhaps you are a traditionalist, and prefer your country with a minimal amount of “alt”?  Wayne “The Train” Hancock and Paul Burch offer four of the 40 tracks here, the simplicity of their videos mirroring the straightforward nature of their music.  There’s also an engaging 20-minute video documentary about honky-tonk legends The Sundowners, with lots of old photos and remembrances of this trio, which played in downtown Chicago for 35 years.


How about some jazz, maybe a few sultry singers?  Jon Rauhouse echoes Speedy West’s jazzy steel guitar on “Widowmaker”, and then supports Kelly Hogan for “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” and Sally Timms in “Perfidia”.


So, your thing’s amped-up country rock n’ roll?  Well, Waco Brothers and Jon Langford are well-represented, with a total of five performances.  Louder still, you say?  The quick-cut frames of “Drinkin’ & Flailin’” by Scroat Belly can barely keep up with the song’s near speed-metal riffage.  Scott H. Biram’s “Hit the Road” is dirty blues with a punk feel, and its fitting video offers equal measures of creepiness and humor—it is chockfull of car accidents and chickens.  Oh, and there’s also the freaky lo-fi, low-budget “Bring the Noise” video from The Unholy Trio, which features some strange nudity and perverse dancing.  You’ll just have to see for yourself, although I hope I don’t accidentally see it for a second time.


Adore scraggy-haired, sensitive singer-songwriters?  You Ryan Adams fans will find something to love in this DVD.  You might not find it, however, in the grainy B&W close-up of a live “AMY”—unless, of course, you are the kind of fan who would find a static shot of Adams’ tuning pegs, capo, and left hand absorbing.  Far superior is a documentary made shortly after the release of Adams’ Heartbreaker, which follows the bedhead through a few solo intimate shows, radio performances and interviews and watches him alternate between obtuse goofiness and a quiet sincerity.


I’ve still only barely scratched the surface of the variety Bloodied but Unbowed offers.  Trailer Bride’s “Hope is a Thing with Feathers” is most likely the priciest video on the DVD, although it features the unlikely elements of a bowed saw and a wide variety of chickens.  The “TMP Smackdown” feature-ette makes me rue the recent demise (their second) of The Meat Purveyors.  And there’s more.  I’ve yet to mention performances by Old 97’s, Robbie Fulks, and Graham Parker, nor the delightful camp of Neko Case doing “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” on the public access show Chic-a-go-go. 


My complaints about this DVD verge on the petty.  For instance, I’d much rather have seen a ragged-but-right live-recorded take of The Detroit Cobras than the glossy video provided.  And I’d easily trade two similarly-shot, blurry videos from the one Split Lip Rayfield SXSW performance for more Alejandro Escovedo.  His lone appearance on the DVD is certainly a memorable one: a breathtaking, smiling, live big-band performance of “Castanets”.  And I have one question for Bloodshot: where, oh where, are Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops?


Bloodied but Unbowed takes advantage of its visual medium to further enhance Bloodshot’s 12-years-and-still-strong reputation as the premier documentarian of the diversity of twang.

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"Hit the Road" Scott H. Biram video
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