Various Artists – While No One Was Looking (20 Years of Bloodshot Record)

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While No One Was Looking

Various Artists


The home of alt-country throws a party

I still can’t put an actual date or even an event that saw my conversion to all things alt-country; but buying the Various Artists Straight Outta Boone County  LP on Bloodshot Records in 1998 had to be a step on my Damascene conversion. If nothing else, it introduced me to a label that has continued to drain my wallet and bring me intense pleasure on a regular basis.

To celebrate their 20th birthday, Bloodshot are releasing this double CD/LP featuring 38 cover versions of songs on the label. It will be a very black heart that doesn’t discover a gem or two hiding in the grooves.

As has always been the case; the bands and singers cover every conceivable description of Americana/alt-country with stalwarts like Chuck Prophet, Charlie Parr, Handsome Family, and Andrew Bird sharing space with a host of (relative) newcomers.

Compilation albums have always been hit and miss affairs from every label, but Bloodshot has a hit rate way above the average. Here, Ted Leo’s take on the Waco Brothers “Dragging My Own Tombstone” is my personal pick for a “jewel in the crown”. Daniel Romano’s does a cool interpretation of “Strange Birds”, originally by Jon Langford and The Sadies, which runs a close second.

Honourable mentions must also go to The Handsome Family, who reimagine “$1,000 Car”, Jerry David DeCicca’s delicate version of Alejandro Escovedo’s “Broken Bottle”, and the North Carolina Music Love Army nearly steal the show with an electrifying “Stick to the Plan”, which sounds nothing like Graham Parker’s original.

With 38 tracks spread over the two discs, not everything works. There were too many indie bands included for my own personal liking. But, then again, if I gave this to a Hipster with an Appalachian farmers’ beard, I’m sure those would be the tracks he’d like instead.

Out of the artists I didn’t already know, I have already checked out Koji, Carolyn Mark, and The Minus 5 in exactly the way I have done with every other compilation album I’ve bought from Bloodshot over the years.

Happy Birthday Bloodshot Records, and here’s to another 20 glorious, music-filled years! 

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