It's a thankless task, and damned near impossible, but the rules of the game dictate that I do it anyway. The job at hand is picking one 30-second audio clip to represent the more than two hours and 42 cuts on this beyond excellent compilation surveying Bloodshot Records' eleven years in the music business. Bloodshot has been many things to many people over this more-than-a-decade, so the choices are numerous. For instance, a clip could showcase one of the bands that started with Bloodshot and went mega -- My Morning Jacket's "Behind That Locked Door" or even Old 97s' "I'd Be Lonesome" would do the trick there. Or it could recognize Bloodshot's role in letting legendary musical figures continue to evolve and work productively past their commercial peak, as with John Doe's rollicking duet with Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops ("Call of the Wreckin' Ball"), Graham Parker & the Figgs' mordantly wonderful "Harridan of Yore", or even Jon Langford and the Waco Brothers' twang-dented cover of "I Fought the Law" as evidence. A whole crew of female artists, from Sally Timms to Carla Bozulich to Kelly Hogan to Nora O'Connor, contribute lovely, clear-eyed, unsentimental work, and leaving them out would be a shame. And how, how, how
can you fail to highlight heartfelt, boundary-crossing songs by artists like Richard Buckner, whose "Do You Want to Go Somewhere?" is tragic and sexy at the same time, or 16 Horsepower, whose "De-Railed" sets the standard for alt-country intensity? There are covers, too, drawing dotted lines from roots music to other genres -- funny ones like the Yayhoos' take on the O'Jays' "Love Train" and disturbing ones like Porter Hall, TN's bootstomping version of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died".
The problem is that there's no way to summarize a compilation as diverse and consistently amazing as this one, and though the artists may share roots in traditional Americana, the ways they use these influences and combine them with other kinds of music are as different from one another as snowflakes. There's none of the reverence, none of the choking traditionalism that can wall this kind of music off from contemporary life. As Langford writes in the introduction, "The artists involved are not afraid to molest and caress these forms to create strange and wonderful and unplanned new sounds. They've showed us that stark mountain ballads can sound as dangerous as full on rock assaults; that a sublime love song can make you sweat, and that music is only innovative and interesting when artists are willing to take a chance on it." Even people who aren't steeped in the alt-country genre, people who say to themselves that they don't like country, will respond to many of these tracks.