The Rounder Records Story

Various Artists

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The Rounder Records Story Review

by Thom Jurek

This four-disc, 87-track retrospective covers the first four decades of one of the most successful "folk" labels in history. Co-founders/owners Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy, and Bill Nowlin assembled a collection that showcases -- one disc per decade -- how deeply entrenched the label was in the 1970s in exposing various forms of folk music from traditional to emergent ones, and how its focus expanded. Disc one includes tracks by newgrass outfit J.D. Crowe & the New South, outsider songwriter Michael Hurley, banjoist Ola Belle Reed, Appalachian traditionalists Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, and ace superpicker Norman Blake and the Cajun sounds of D.L Menard & the Louisiana Aces. It also reveals the label's first big directional shakeup by including George Thorogood & the Delaware Destroyers' scorching read of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love." The '80s reflect a wider reach still, with tracks by soulman Ted Hawkins, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, polka revisionists Brave Combo, country songwriter Keith Whitley, and blues artists Rory Block and Johnny Copeland. There's also a deeper step into Louisiana traditions with music by Professor Longhair, James Booker, and Buckwheat Zydeco included, too. This decade also signaled the arrival of Nanci Griffith on Rounder's Philo imprint. In the '90s, Rounder's profile was enhanced by the arrival of bluegrass queen Alison Krauss, who has been a best-selling artist for them ever since. There were more singer/songwriter types on the imprint too, such as Bill Morrissey, Tish Hinojosa, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore; more modern electric blues and R&B talents were showcased too in Marcia Ball, Irma Thomas, Tracy Nelson, Ruth Brown, Johnny Adams, and Wilson Pickett; and the label still held traditional sway with bluegrass mainstay Krauss and uber-tradtionalist James King. The first decade of the new century reveals Rounder's wide range in embracing everything they felt they could sell: from Americana-drenched rock acts such as Son Volt and the Cowboy Junkies to uber-rockers Rush; the vanguard pop of They Might Be Giants and jazzy chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux; to British folk maven Linda Thompson, as well as experimental projects like the Grammy-winning Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Krauss. Country-pop legend and stalwart Willie Nelson also recorded for them. But no matter their genre extensions, bluegrass is still part of Rounder's mix, as cuts by Dailey & Vincent, Rhonda Vincent, and Blue Highway attest. It's impressive to be sure. That said, despite the range of music here and the fine historical essay by Geoffrey Himes, two chapters are missing: a disc that focuses on their vast licensing of traditional music, and the essential collection of tracks by American songwriting icons such as Tom Russell, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark, rockabilly queen Rosie Flores, and R&B legend Eddie Hinton, most of whom recorded multiple albums for the label and its subsidiaries. Here's hoping Rounder will consider a second collection to showcase these lesser-selling projects from essential artists who are an indelible part of its story.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 J.D. Crowe & the New South 02:48 SpotifyAmazon
2 The Bailey Brothers 02:41 SpotifyAmazon
3 Country Cooking 02:14 SpotifyAmazon
4 Ola Belle Reed 02:36 SpotifyAmazon
5 Woodstock Mountains Revue 03:53 SpotifyAmazon
6 George Pegram 02:15 SpotifyAmazon
7 Ed Haley 02:53 SpotifyAmazon
8 Michael Hurley 04:04 SpotifyAmazon
9 The Balfa Freres 03:44 SpotifyAmazon
10 Joseph Cormier 03:39 SpotifyAmazon
11 Mark O'Connor 02:15 SpotifyAmazon
12 Norman Blake 03:40 SpotifyAmazon
13 Boone Creek 02:33 SpotifyAmazon
14 Don Stover 03:06 SpotifyAmazon
15 Buddy Thomas 02:23 SpotifyAmazon
16 Highwoods Stringband 02:53 SpotifyAmazon
17 Hazel & Alice 03:46 SpotifyAmazon
18 Alhaji Bai Konte 05:04 SpotifyAmazon
19 Tony Trischka 04:17 SpotifyAmazon
20 Jerry Douglas 03:08 SpotifyAmazon
21 D.L. Menard & The Louisiana Aces 03:26 SpotifyAmazon
22 David Grisman 01:59 SpotifyAmazon
23 Joe Val & The New England Bluegrass Boys 03:06 SpotifyAmazon
24 George Thorogood & the Destroyers 04:19 SpotifyAmazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown 03:45 SpotifyAmazon
2 Ted Hawkins 02:14 SpotifyAmazon
3 Jonathan Richman 02:44 SpotifyAmazon
4 Keith Whitley 03:17 SpotifyAmazon
5 Tony Rice 02:34 SpotifyAmazon
6 Hazel Dickens 04:30 SpotifyAmazon
7 Klezmer Conservatory Band 01:49 SpotifyAmazon
8 Culture 03:58 SpotifyAmazon
Buckwheat Zydeco 03:35 SpotifyAmazon
10 Professor Longhair 04:23 SpotifyAmazon
11 BeauSoleil 03:39 SpotifyAmazon
12 Riders in the Sky 01:44 SpotifyAmazon
13 The Johnson Mountain Boys 02:42 SpotifyAmazon
14 Brave Combo 02:30 SpotifyAmazon
15 James Booker 03:15 SpotifyAmazon
16 Rory Block 02:22 SpotifyAmazon
17 Sleepy LaBeef 02:20 SpotifyAmazon
18 Johnny Copeland 02:57 SpotifyAmazon
19 Béla Fleck 03:10 SpotifyAmazon
20 Nanci Griffith 02:35 SpotifyAmazon
21 The Bluegrass Album Band 03:10 SpotifyAmazon
22 John McCutcheon 02:42 SpotifyAmazon
Flaco Jiménez 02:18 SpotifyAmazon
24 The Whole Wheat Horns / NRBQ 03:25 SpotifyAmazon

Track Listing - Disc 3

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Bill Morrissey 03:20 SpotifyAmazon
2 Alison Krauss 03:49 SpotifyAmazon
3 Jimmie Dale Gilmore 03:47 SpotifyAmazon
4 Marcia Ball / Tracy Nelson / Irma Thomas 04:19 SpotifyAmazon
5 Rebirth Brass Band 04:30 SpotifyAmazon
6 Charles Brown 06:50 SpotifyAmazon
7 Carrie Newcomer 03:14 SpotifyAmazon
8 Johnny Adams 03:42 SpotifyAmazon
9 Tish Hinojosa 05:02 SpotifyAmazon
10 James King 04:57 SpotifyAmazon
11 Beau Jocque 04:55 SpotifyAmazon
12 Eddie LeJeune / D.L. Menard / Ken Smith 03:18 SpotifyAmazon
13 Longview 04:04 SpotifyAmazon
14 The Cox Family / Alison Krauss 03:25 SpotifyAmazon
15 Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown / Ruth Brown 04:26 SpotifyAmazon
The Wild Magnolias 02:42 SpotifyAmazon
17 Roomful of Blues 04:17 SpotifyAmazon
18 Wilson Pickett 03:42 SpotifyAmazon

Track Listing - Disc 4

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Madeleine Peyroux 03:10 SpotifyAmazon
2 Son Volt 04:19 SpotifyAmazon
3 Dailey & Vincent 02:57 SpotifyAmazon
4 Three Pickers / Earl Scruggs / Ricky Skaggs / Doc Watson 03:08 SpotifyAmazon
5 Willie Nelson 02:18 SpotifyAmazon
6 Jimmy Sturr 01:54 SpotifyAmazon
7 Downtown Silver Band / Linda Thompson 03:24 SpotifyAmazon
8 Irma Thomas 04:47 SpotifyAmazon
9 Alison Krauss / Robert Plant 05:53 SpotifyAmazon
10 Blue Highway 03:09 SpotifyAmazon
11 Rush 04:27 SpotifyAmazon
12 Cowboy Junkies 03:40 SpotifyAmazon
13 Sarah Harmer 04:09 SpotifyAmazon
14 Mary Chapin Carpenter 03:43 SpotifyAmazon
15 Rhonda Vincent 03:04 SpotifyAmazon
16 The Grascals 03:14 SpotifyAmazon
17 Steve Martin 03:23 SpotifyAmazon
18 Robert Plant 03:44 SpotifyAmazon
Delta Spirit 03:37 SpotifyAmazon
20 They Might Be Giants 02:11 SpotifyAmazon
21 Kathleen Edwards 03:29 SpotifyAmazon
blue highlight denotes track pick