Friday, May 13, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: 35 YEARS OF STONY PLAIN
Every five years, Edmonton's Stony Plain Records puts together a collection of some of the highlights of its musical adventures, as a nifty double-disc set. I have them all, and treasure them, as I do the whole existence of the label. It is a anachronism, an impossibility. It's a record company built on a singular vision, of releasing excellent roots music, by musicians who deserve to be heard, and do it all from a small city way off the beaten path. But in doing so, Stony Plain has had many great musicians and music fans beat a path to its doors over the years.
Of course, it is due to the determination of Holger Petersen, long-time collector, host of CBC's Saturday Night Blues, and just about the best guy in the music business. How he's survived without cutting anyone's throat, including his own, is his great secret, but that pure love of music has brought his label giants from the past, oddball eccentrics, lost souls, curmudgeons and those who recognize a kindred spirit, and a great place to call home. Canadians, of course, have benefited through the many years, and here we find cuts from the late great Jeff Healey, Celtic party band Spirit of the West, the guitar wizardry of Harry Manx and Kevin Breit, the trio of Alberta cowboys, Corb Lund, Tim Hus, and the legendary Ian Tyson. From B.C.'s Valdy to Long John Baldry, the folk, roots and blues scene has flourished in this country, with Petersen one of the main reasons.
Petersen's also like a crafty baseball General Manager; he's always on the lookout for a talented free agent, who needs a short-term deal before signing another rich contract. Stony Plain has managed to snap up high quality albums from the likes of Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle while the major labels were sleeping. And sometimes it seems as if the classy Canadians know more about great blues than the U.S. companies, with Grammy-winning Maria Muldaur on board, the Roomful Of Blues axeman Duke Robillard practically an Alberta boy now, and such giants of the past as Jay McShann, Rosco Gordon and Billy Boy Arnold making their final recordings for the label, and making damn good ones. They are all here on this set.
This is the music that is featured in summer festivals all over North America, and in the best clubs throughout the winter. It is made by people who can make your jaw drop at times, or coax a tear from your eye. There's not a one of them that panders, and I'd bet every single artist here plans to play for the rest of their lives, whether they make a fortune or hit hard times. There's something to admire in every song on the collection. And if that hasn't sold you yet, it's got Blue Rodeo singing Four Strong Winds. What else do you want in life?