Various Artists

35 Years: Bear Family Records

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Germany's Bear Family Records is the gold standard when it comes to reissues of recordings, and it also creates DVDs and publishes books. Label boss Richard Weize, who claimed: "I am a collector and I'm crazy" to set up a label that enhanced his collection, but also to shared it -- along with any new discoveries he makes along the way -- with the world, without money being the sought after object. His box sets are of the highest quality, from the material chosen -- which is as comprehensive as possible, or at least legal licensing will allow, extensively researched discographies, book-length liner notes (always hardbound), and, of course, truly amazing remastered sound. The label's range of releases is staggering in both breadth and depth: from bluegrass, country, rockabilly, folk, hillbilly, rootsy European and American jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, and classic pop (from Germany as well as the U.S.). Artists who are legendary and those considered marginal by many are all given equal deluxe treatment by the label, whether it's a box set or a single-disc compilation.

To celebrate its 35th anniversary, Bear Family did something different. Rather than compile a deluxe compilation from its compilations, it instead asked music biz friends, musicians, and songwriters to write and record "bear" songs. Most are brand new, though some date back to the year 2000. There 68 of them spread out over three CDs. Artists include Amy Allison, Deke Dickerson, Ray Campi, Ian Gomm, Jeb Loy Nichols, Louie Ortega, Roland Heinrich, Hank Shizzoe, Riders in the Sky, Charlie Pickett, Tommy Womack, Elizabeth Cook, and the Spampinato Brothers. In addition to the music, there is a 208-page, hardbound book that gives a history of the label, features testimonials from critics and musicians, and is loaded with photos of artists and the covers of virtually everything in Bear Family's catalog to date. The best part for this amazing package is the price. (Check you local record shop or online for the biggest surprise of all.) It all adds up to one of the most delightfully curious and wonderfully idiosyncratic collections of music ever assembled.

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