Neko Case – Furnace Room Lullaby**
On her debut record, The Virginian, Neko got pegged as a smart-mouthed, neo-Patsy Cline honky-tonk siren with a gorgeous gift of a voice and a knack for cool covers. Furnace Room Lullaby stopped me in my tracks, literally. Driving around the North Side of Chicago one day with the finished mixes (on cassette, natch…), I got to the title track and had to pull over. The soaring, haunting Middle Eastern-inflected vibe still makes the hairs on my neck stand straight up. For me, it marked the start of Neko's path as artist, rather than interpreter.
- Rob Miller
Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies**
Justin’s full-length debut The Good Life was a solid reflection of his influences: Woody Guthrie, classic Nashville honky-tonk, and Delta country blues. And, every review began, invariably, with some variation of “Son of legendary Steve…”
Midnight at the Movies, though, jumps out of the speakers with a confidence and determination that, halfway through the opening title track (what is it with the awesomeness of the title tracks?), had me on the phone with his manager in a heightened state of giddiness. For me, it’s where he went from “Son of Steve” to “Justin.” Full stop.
Being up close and in the trenches with two artists of this caliber when they find their voices is both humbling and exhilarating. It’s those experiences you carry with you always.
- Rob Miller
Murder By Death - Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon**
I had been a fan of Murder By Death for a long while when the label was sent the advance of this record, and it blew my mind -- it was unlike any of their albums I had listened to prior. At that time, many of the albums we had recently released and were about to release didn’t have the same sonic approach, the album is brooding, moody, cerebral, energetic, uber creative…It mixes indie rock, rootsy elements, and punk in a way that -- to this day -- no other band approaches. Also, when we began working with the band they brought with them a new class of fervent fans that perhaps looked into the Bloodshot catalog for the first time and found something different than what they were used to listening to. In my mind, beginning working with Murder By Death was the equivalent to landing the free agent superstar in sports; it makes the whole team instantly better. That dynamic still exists to this day, three albums later.
- Josh Zanger
Cory Branan – Mutt*
When I first started working at Bloodshot over nine years ago, I began my tenure as publicist taking on some great album campaigns (Exene Cervenka’s The Excitement of Maybe, Maggie Bjorklund’s Coming Home, Ha Ha Tonka’s Death of a Decade, in addition to many others) that I played no part in planning. After I had been around for a little while, our former radio and retail guys hipped me to Cory Branan and a demo he had sent over to us for consideration, which contained the material of what would be Mutt. The album blew me away and I instantly knew I had to become an outspoken advocate for it, both at the label and beyond. It’s the kind of record that, when you hear it, you have to tell people about it: a gritty, whipsmart, emotional mix of country and rock and other less definable vibes.
- Josh Zanger
Various Artists - Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots*
At two and a half decades, there are no guarantees that any company would still be alive and kickin’ -- let alone in the music industry during one of the independent sector’s most financially tumultuous times. That aside, this compilation is a pure example of how an independent company like ours finds inspiration to push forward.
Our defining subset [independent company + Chicago + alt-country/roots] perpetually brands us a second -- or third or fourth -- fiddle in every which way, but our aim is always upward. This compilation showcases what drives us: exciting newer artists doing special shit (Half Gringa, ROOKIE, Sima Cunningham, to name a few) and then big-picture, career-focused artists continuing to challenge themselves with inventive, cohesive ideas and songs (Western Elstons, Robbie Fulks, Tammi Savoy). We’ll never become famous, be rich, or ever have any power, but at least we’ll have a hand in getting more people to be affected by some truly special artists who surround us in this city.
* Chosen for discussion by Bloodshot
** Chosen for discussion by Scene Point Blank