Various Artists: For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records
Reports of the death of alt-country have been greatly exaggerated, as Bloodshot Records celebrates 10 years in business with 42 new, vital songs.
What's to be made of Bloodshot Record's 11th anniversary compilation, For a Decade of Sin? It's not a retrospective, culling seminal tracks from the first decade of the self-proclaimed "insurgent country" label's releases, but rather all new/unreleased music. And a good chunk of the 42 artists represented on this compilation aren't even members of the Bloodshot family! Not that these facts makes the album any less enjoyable, but still: Weird.
Those minor details out of the way, give Bloodshot credit for zagging where other labels would've zigged when it came time to celebrate a decade (or so) in the music business. The musicians that appear on For a Decade of Sin, whether they're currently in the Bloodshot fold (Bobby Bare, Jr.), once called the label home (Old 97s) or are merely spiritual brethren to the label (Blanche), all fall under the vague umbrella of alt-country/roots rock/Americana, yet they're all very different from each other (Superquick gripe: I like Crooked Fingers, but what are they doing on this comp? And, for the love of God, where's Neko Case?). A difficult-to-define genre calls for a unique compilation, and that's the best way to summarize this disc.
Yes, it's cliché to say that a comp disc contains something for everyone, but in this instance, it's a cliché because it's true... for genre fans, at least. Like your alt-country to rock with a barroom stomp? There's Bobby Bare, Jr.'s "Ocean Size", the Bottlerockets' "A Living Hell" and Matt Mays' "The Plan". Or maybe you want your music to rock, but with a dose of righteous anger, something that Bloodshot acts have doled out with regularity over the past 10 years? There's the Starkweathers' roots-punky "Burn the Flag" ("Rip it up / Don't let 'em ram it down your throat if you don't want"), and inspired, apropos-in-this-day-and-age covers from the Waco Brothers ("I Fought the Law") and Dollar Store (the Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You"). Maybe you like your Americana old-timey: there's Paul Burch and Ralph Stanley's "Little Glass of Wine" and the Handsome Family's "The Lost Soul". And for a genre that often feels male-dominated, there's plenty of female vocalists, from Sally Timms (the breathy "Tumbling Tumbleweeds") to Kelly Hogan ("Chicken Road") to the bizarre Japanese Hawaiian guitar duo Petty Booka, who turn "How Can I Be So Thirsty Today?" into an outtake from the long-forgotten variety show Pink Lady and Jeff. You get the idea -- something for everyone, and even if you're well-versed in Americana/alt-country, you're still bound to find something new to enjoy (f'rinstance, I haven't stopped listening to "The Plan" since I heard it on this disc).
While all the tunes appearing here are previously unreleased -- a nice touch and one that illustrates that Bloodshot is already looking forward to their second decade -- and there's plenty of non-BSers here, the tracks included truly do reward the longtime, hardcore Bloodshot fan (yes, I'm one). Scanning the liner notes, one gets a feel for Bloodshot's cross-pollination. You can play Six Degrees of Separation with any compilations, but with For a Decade of Sin such a game points to a genuine sense of community on the Bloodshot roster. To wit: As mentioned before, the Wacos cover the Clash's "I Fought The Law". Dean Schlabowske, co-lead singer of the Wacos, has his side project, Dollar Store, on the comp, and Sally Timms, who has worked with the Wacos (and is in the Mekons with the Wacos' Jon Langford) is here too. Meanwhile, the Sadies backed Langford on a solo album a few years back; on this comp, they're backing Andre Williams on "Shake A Tail Feather". Eric Ambel of the Yayhoos, who cover "Love Train", produced the Bottlerockets' The Brooklyn Side a decade ago; the 'Rockets are on the disc with "A Living Hell". Tom Ray, the 'Rockets' original bassist, is here backing Sally Timms, as is Hawaiian guitar wiz Jon Rauhouse, who also appears on the disc with John Doe and Jim and Jenny and the Pinetops for a live version of the Knitters' "Call of the Wreckin' Ball", and as a solo performer, tearing through the theme to The Magnificent Seven. I could keep going, but -- WHEW! It's exhausting exploring Bloodshot's incestuousness!
Maybe a retrospective chronicling the last 10 years of Bloodshot would've been nice, and given the uninitiated a foothold on the scene, but Bloodshot is a forward-looking label; no laurel-resters here. More likely, the Bloodshot brain trust figured that the target audience for this compilation already has most of the Bloodshot releases, and rather than punish those fans by making them buy music they already own, chose to reward them with an intriguing batch of new tunes.