45TH Anniversary Edition
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Call Rounder Records "the little label that could and did." To celebrate its 45th year in business, Rounder is offering a free 14-track download. Call it a mere sampling of its back catalog. Begun by Ken Irwin, Bill Nowlin, and Marian Leighton-Levy in 1970 when all three were still in college, Rounder grew from its modest Cambridge, MA roots to a company with more than 3,000 releases that span genres from blues and bluegrass to Celtic, rock, and zydeco.
While some of us still harbor a grudge over its move from Cambridge to Nashville, there's no getting around the quality of the music it continues to crank out. Rounder's first breakthrough came with a release from George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and the anniversary collection offers the legendary rocker's hard-driving electric blues "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer." The label's biggest coup, though, was signing Alison Kraus when she was an unknown. Ms. Kraus has been fiercely loyal ever since. She's the only artist with two tracks on the anthology: "Paper Airplane," which is as fragile as its namesake; and "Rich Woman," a muscular collaboration with Led Zep's Robert Plant that is like Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra on steroids (and a lot more talent).
If you like music on the soft side, in addition to Kraus there is "Once in a Very Blue Moon," a very sweet love song from the exceedingly sweet and lovely Nanci Griffith. Also surprisingly light is the smooth New Orleans soul of Buckwheat Zydeco on "Ya Ya." If you want something chewier, try "Frosty" by Clarence Gatemouth Brown with its blaring horns, funky bass, rolling organ, and crystalline guitar licks. Or maybe some 21st century rock with a 1970s feel from Blackberry Smoke ("Old Time Rock and Roll"), a skiffle-like offering from J D McPherson ("North Side Gal"), or some small-combo-throwback music from Pokey LaFarge ("Something in the Water").
To the degree that Rounder has ever 'specialized,' it's been a launching pad for innovative bluegrass. You'll hear classic tracks from Earls of Leicester, J D Crowe, Norman Blake, and Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Rounder continues to reseed bluegrass, as you will hear on "Radio," a no-twang, fiddle-driven song from Steep Canyon Rangers. Its tight harmonies, complex melding of instruments, and edge is bluegrass for people who hate formula. Also check out "Love Has Come for You." The banjo player is Steve Martin and you've not gotten the word, funny man Steve is dead serious about the banjo. The only thing better than his crisp licks are the vocals of Edie Brickell, who possesses a voice for the ages.
Happy birthday, Rounder. You can come home any time!