Various Artists

American Music: The Hightone Records Story [Box Set]

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Few if any other record labels have been as steadfastly dedicated to the propagation of American roots music as HighTone, the Oakland, CA based company launched in 1983 by Bruce Bromberg and Larry Sloven. Emerging during a period when MTV was just taking hold, and when radio and clubs concentrated on flashy, synthetic, post-punk and dance music, HighTone's founders shrugged, ignored the trends, and went about signing up one great Americana artist after another. The label couldn't have gotten off to a better start: Robert Cray's Bad Influence was a colossal achievement that almost single-handedly served notice that the blues was back in town (not that it had ever left), only under new management. Following its success, HighTone subsequently diversified, unleashing not only superb albums of modern blues but also no-nonsense folk, rock, country, and numerous subgenres thereof -- all of it, essentially, non-trendy, organic music created by both established and young upstarts. This four-CD/one-DVD collection is HighTone's well-deserved pat on its own back. The audio portion is sectioned into the four umbrellas of blues, rock, country and singer/songwriter/folk, under which a wildly diverse array of artists is showcased. Not all of the names here boast star quality while others do, but what they all share is a naturalness and directness -- not to mention honest-to-goodness songwriting, playing, and singing talent -- not often reflected in the sales charts or mainstream media. Rockabilly hero Billy Lee Riley, legendary folkie Ramblin' Jack Elliott (heard here with Tom Waits singing "Louise"), Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (rightly placed in the country section) and Joe Louis Walker may not, on the surface, seem to have much in common. Nor would Rosie Flores, surf god Dick Dale, Dave Alvin, or Buddy Miller (who is represented on the rock, country and singer/songwriter discs). But they do: they've all recorded for HighTone. The DVD gathers up music videos from the likes of Joe Ely, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, and several others.

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