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Posted January 6, 2011
Pop Music For Grown-Ups? More Like Roots Music For Everyone
The booklet included in this brilliant boxed-set makes the claim that if rock and roll is pop music for young people, then roots music is pop music for older folks. That may be so. But I can tell you that growing up in the early 1980's, I found myself attracted to all kinds of so-called roots music from The Smithsonian Folkways Collection to return-to-rock roots stuff from Slash Records and the DIY spirit of many indie labels at that time. While some may feel that a compilation of roots music may be as necessary as an Alligator Records Best-Of CD, "The Rounder Records Story" offers more than ample proof that country, folk, bluegrass, blues, R&B and experimental music can have a place in our culture. Formed in 1970 by Marian Levy, Ken Irwin and Bill Norwin in a small Massachusets apartment, Rounder was originally a depository of everything early folk, early country and early bluegrass. Some of these figures we know like Appalachian singer Hazel Dickens and mandolin player and future Jerry Garcia buddy David Grisman. However, the first CD is almost like an Alan Lomax field recording, covering the sounds of America in the 1970's as if it was still the 1930's. By the 1980's, Rounder began to change a little. Its roster now included gutsy bluesmen like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, decent country singers like Keith Whitley, struggling New Wave musicians like Jonathan Richman and a cowboy-throwback group known as Riders In The Sky. The label also became an exclusive Cajun label with Beausoleil, Buckwheat Zydeco and Professor Longhair. They even had a Klezmer Conservatory Band. Rounder was now becoming a world music label as well as a roots music haven. Within the next few years, Rounder managed to get a number of major music figures to record what would be their swansongs---such as Ruth Brown, Wilson Pickett and Charles Brown. They also got terrific up-and-coming talent like scorching Cajun singer Marcia Ball, a fluid guitar picker named Bela Fleck and traditional-sounding country singer named Alison Krauss. Today, Rounder has become one of the few independently run labels that continues to thrive as well as nurture old and new talent. The final CD covers these bases more than well. On that CD, we get a dose of country rockers Son Volt ("Down to the Wire") as well as a sample of Willie Nelson ("Man with the Blues"). There's the funereal dirge of the Cowboy Junkies ("Small Swift Birds") along with The Jimmy Sturr Polka Band doing a pretty good, roaring version of Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser". Robert Plant and Alison Krauss appear here, too. As does Steve Martin---but only as a musician, not a comedian. And for upping the ante in strange, how did the Canadian band Rush get to Rounder with their live crowd-pleasing acoustic ballad "Resist"? Or how about They Might Be Giants with their childlike tune, "Fibber Island" (I personally wish they could've included "No Means No")? But why quibble with music this good? If you listen to Madeleine Peyroux singing "Don't Wait Too Long", you'd swear she was a dead ringer for Billie Holliday. You hear Linda Thompson singing "Versatile Heart", a not-too-veiled stab at her cheating ex-hubby Richard, and it makes you glad that she's still able to sing. When you listen to Hazel Dickens singing about leaving the only small town she's ever known in "Mama's
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Posted March 17, 2011
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