For a good while, Bloodshot Records has been the flagship label for “insurgent country” (the label’s own term), Americana, alt-country, or whatever you want to call it. With an artist roster that’s included folks like Neko Case, Ryan Adams, the Waco Brothers, Kelly Hogan, the Sadies, Alejandro Escovedo, the Old ‘97s, and the Bottle Rockets, Bloodshot’s watched a steady stream of talent come through its doors, and known what to do with it. That said, it’s mildly suprising that they’ve reached their 100th release. Bloodshot might be the genre’s wise old man atop the mountain, but they’re lowkey enough that a ton of 7-inch singles, compilations, and other obscurities can slip by unnoticed.
Making Singles Drinking Doubles tries to remedy that, giving fans a real gift by collecting a batch of out-of-print, unreleased, or just-plain-hard-to-find cuts from the label’s catalog. Any of these songs that have previously seen the light of day typically did so in limited runs of 500 or 1,000 copies—enough for the most ardent fans to get their fix, but not for the rest of us to get in on the fun. So while it’s a good collection for the casual listener, it’s also mannah for the diehard’s soul. It’s foolish to throw a gauntlet at completists, but there’s probably stuff on this collection that even the most ardent Bloodshot afficionados would sell their mothers for. Besides that, the record’s just plain fun.
What comes across the most on these tracks is the sheer fun and joy that a lot of these acts had making music. Despite the occasional big name like Ryan Adams, Bloodshot is mainly a home for musicians who still have day jobs, who scrape together recording time and money as best they can and then hit the road in a cramped van. They also exhibit a love of country music that’s right in line with the label’s near-evangelical zeal. One listen to Kelly Hogan’s rapid-fire run through “1,000,0001” (a response to The Sadies’ “One Million Songs”) or Neko Case’s heavily twanged take on Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X” will put a definite smile on your face.
The cover versions (of which there are many) come from mainly unexpected places. The Waco Brothers make Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder they Come” sound like a primo Clash outtake. Rex Hobart applies pedal steel to Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and almost gets away with it (there’s probably too much sap in that song’s tree for any artist to overcome, though). The Meat Purveyors offer up the oddly charming “Madonna Trilogy”, which actually makes “Like a Virgin” sound sweet and tender, but which sounds very unsure by the time it gets through “Lucky Star” and “Burning Up”. The Volebeats take a gentle country stroll through Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” and Moonshine Willy goes on a foot-stomping, decidedly un-British romp through XTC’s “Complicated Games”. Folks like Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, and Freddy Fender also get nods, with generally good results.
There’s not a lot of original material, but what’s here is also top-notch. Ryan Adam’s unreleased Heartbreaker outtake, “Goodbye Honey”, is the kind of stripped-down simplicity you don’t hear from him much these days, and the acoustic version of “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” has a nice off-the-cuff feel. Folks trying to collect everything they can by the prolific Adams (a masochistic task if ever there was one) will be grateful for these two cuts. Andre Williams and 2 Star Tabernacle (with Jack White of the White Stripes on backing vocals and piano) set fire to “Lily White Mama & Jet Black Daddy” (their gut-bucket cover of “Ramblin’ Man” really shines, sounding like Nick Cave or Tom Waits got ahold of it). Bloodshot Renaissance Man Jon Langford closes things out with “Nashville Radio”, ending the record with the same Clash vibe that kicked things off.
All in all, Making Singles Drinking Doubles is the kind of mini-party you’d expect Bloodshot to throw for itself. A collection of the well-known stuff isn’t the Bloodshot way, or the way of collectors of obscure 7-inch singles. This compilation marks a milestone, but it also gives something by giving most listeners a ton of good stuff they’ve probably never heard. If only more compilations took that approach.