Out There

Down to the Promised Land:
5 Years of Bloodshot Records
Various artists
(Bloodshot Records)

Maybe it's the novelty freak speaking, but this fifth-anniversary pat-on-the-ass boils down to one contribution from a little outfit called The Unholy Trio. You haven't lived until you've heard Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" turned into a white-trash stomp, its call-to-arms sung though a white man's nasal passages until the rhyme animal squeals in what's either pain or delight. These boys play the song like they just learned it on a stage at the local VFW hall during nickel-beer night, clunking and clattering through it until PE starts whistling with "Dixie" and makes you wonder why we all just can't get along, especially by the time guitarist Chris Geer gets around to insisting Farrakhan's a prophet he thinks you oughta listen to. "Ternitup," Geer snarls in a bastard twang, while drummer Jamie Stirling goes looking for the beat in someone else's back pocket. Then, the punch line: "Braaaang the noise," and you can't tell whether the Trio's makin' fun or just havin' fun, though there's a fine line anyway. By comparison, Red Star Belgrade's "Highway to Hell" sounds forever Angus Young, while the Waco Brothers' banjoed "Baba O'Riley" sounds a little too tossed off.

Forty songs make up this "insurgent country" compilation from Chicago's Bloodshot label, and most range from better to best: Graham Parker singing Mekon Jon's words; the Supersuckers out on a date with Willie Nelson's little girl, Amy; the Old 97's back in the fetal position, remembering when they sang with a twang; legendary Motown lecher Andre Williams sticking to Sally Timms like "Glue"; the simple, captivating two-part harmonies of Jane Baxter-Miller and Kelly Kessler, otherwise known as the Texas Rubies; and on and on until you're convinced the best country label in the world's stationed up in Yankee territory. It's the best value of the year--if not the best record to play on Saturday night ("Oh! Chicago," rowdy rock) and Sunday morning ("Unforgiven," a daydream).

Bloodshot's bands used to pick their strings with irony, and they sang through cute little smirks. But somewhere between then and now, the kin of Hank and Patsy have grown up and out of their spangles and fringe. Theirs is a sincere, goofy grin; they love country not because it's quaint and kitsch, but because it's tangible and honest. And Bloodshot always did love its women as much as its men, which makes this compilation even more special: Kelly Hogan, Hazeldine's Tonya Lamm, Neko Case, Anna Fermin, Caitlin Cary, and Amy Nelson (and that's just side one) sound like a choir of angels drinking with the devil. Nothing stands out, because it's all equally grand.

Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky