Various Artists: While No One Was Looking – Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records

bloodshot records
Various Artists
While No One Was Looking-Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Leave it to Chicago’s edgiest and most notorious indie Americana imprint to approach its 20th year in a unique format. Instead of just picking and choosing worthy recordings from two decades worth of releases, as many other indie outfits would do in their situation (including themselves on their fifth anniversary compilation Down to the Promised Land), they invited other acts, regardless of label affiliation, to the party. The result is 38 tracks that originated on Bloodshot, performed by a wildly diverse roster of artists who were influenced by the music, label or both.

That’s a double edged sword though since many of the participants such as Daniel Romano, Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell, Possessed by Paul James, James Leg, Koji and others are obscure even by indie standards. Also, the highest profile participants like Chuck Prophet, Mike Watt & the Missingmen, Superchunk and Andrew Bird are still far from household names. Yet that suits the scrappy Bloodshot style, one that needs to keep things on a shoestring budget. And really, would you want to see U2 or Sting involved in a project like this, even if they requested it?

Ultimately, most of these songs –aside from Ryan Adams’, whose debut solo effort Heartbreaker was the label’s closest shot at a hit —won’t be familiar to anyone other than the most fanatic Bloodshot collector, which might be the goal. The thinking is that you’ll find something somewhere in these tracks that will drive you back to the original performance. Which should work since the music is as eclectic as the performers. It ranges from bluesy country (The Minus 5), to itchy folk (Blitzen Trapper), Chuck Berry styled rocking (Chuck Prophet’s killer version of Andre Williams’ “Dirt”), cow punk (Diarrhea Planet), thumping glam (Warm Soda) and a whole lot of twisted singer/songwriters (Interpol’s Samuel Fogarino). And that just scratches the surface of this two hour long set.

How much appeals to you will depend on your tastes, but it’s clear that all of the contributing musicians did this as a labor of love, something obvious from the honesty and quality of the performances. Don’t worry about being unfamiliar with the songs, the acts or even the Bloodshot label because after a few spins you’ll likely find a new favorite song/act. When you do, you can thank the dedicated and committed folks who founded and nourished it for 20 years for keeping the faith, never wavering from their idiosyncratic vision and not selling out.

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Toast Of The Town: A Q&A with Bloodshot Records On Their 20th Anniversary