40 Years of Stony Plain review

cbc40 Years of Stony Plain

Various Artists

Stony Plain Records

As much as any label, Stony Plain Records—by most measures a small, Canadian independent—has impacted my awareness of folk, blues, bluegrass, and the various associated shades and textures of what we now call Americana and roots music.

Going back to my late teens, I have had Stony Plain records (and tapes and compact discs) in my collection. Through judicious support of regional talents (Corb Lund, Jr. Gone Wild, The Models, and Mark Korven, to name four off the top of my head) and longstanding relationships with national icons (Ian Tyson, Colin Linden, Crowcuss, Amos Garrett) and Duke Robillard, and with Canadian licensing and distribution agreements with labels such as Blind Pig, Rounder, Sugar Hill, Watermelon, and others over the years—not to mention ‘one-offs’ with folks like Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Tom Russell, Katy Moffatt, and more—the Edmonton-based label has had a major part in building a strong base for roots and blues in western Canada.

This is, I believe, the fourth anniversary collection of the label’s to make its way to me, and I may just getting old but it sounds like an old friend dropping by for a visit. Labeling itself “Canada’s Roots, Rock, Folk, Country, and Blues Label” Stony Plain Records is exactly that. While I’m more of the first four than the latter, there is plenty for all to appreciate within this triple album anthology.

If one has ever had the pleasure of wandering the stacks of albums and discs in the Stony Plain headquarters, one is aware of the incredible diversity of music appreciated by the label’s founder Holger Petersen. I don’t pretend to be intimately associated with Petersen or know the inner workings of the label, but from a (near) distance, I have long admired what he has accomplished. That he once dragged me across the Edmonton Folk Festival CD tent to meet Maria Muldaur is only one reason I have affection for him.

More so, he (and his staff) has brought amazing music to my ears.

On this three-disc set, again organized by Singer-Songwriter, Blues and such, and Rarities, the breadth of the label is revealed.

The first disc collects familiar material from folks like Spirit of the West (“The Crawl,”) Doug Sahm (“Louis Riel,”) and Emmylou (“Where Will I Be”), stuff we’ve all heard but which is also nice to hear again, together. There is also more recent material, such as a cut from Colin Linden’s outstanding album of last year (“No More Cheap Wine”) and the Guitar Heroes album. Lund, Harry Manx & Kevin Breit, Crowell, Valdy & Fjellgaard, Jr. Gone Wild, Tyson, and more are also represented. Essentially, a 70-minute jaunt through what Stony Plain has done with folk, roots, and country music over 40 years.

Disc two is a set of cuts from the blues, R&B, and associated sounds the label has released. For someone like me, who voluntarily listens to little blues and such, this offers a compact representation of the label’s treasures, from Rory Block (from her excellent Mississippi John Hurt set) and Paul Reddick (“Mourning Dove,” from his just released album) to Jim Byrnes (“Wrapped Up, Tied Up,”) King Biscuit Boy (“Blue Light Boogie,”) MonkeyJunk (“Mother’s Crying,”) Ruthie Foster (“Keep Your Big Mouth Closed,” a Memphis Millie number) and Long John Baldry (“Midnight Special.”) 75 minutes of mostly party sounds.

No two-album collection can adequately capture 40 years of releases, but this one certainly gives a great effort: good thing there are other Stony Plain anniversary packages, released in five-year intervals, to sample, not to mention the original albums.

The final disc adds a dozen rare, out of print, or previously unreleased tracks including—depending on tastes— several highlights. I’ve never been taken by the song “Rehab,” but Duke Robillard’s bossa nova-tinged instrumental rendition works for me. A pair of Eric Bibb songs previously unavailable outside Europe adds value, as do live cuts from Maria Muldaur, recorded in 2001. Colin Linden completeists will appreciate a pair of songs from the early 70s recorded with Sam Chatmon, while those who value Bob Carpenter’s approach to country-roots will want to hear unreleased gems.

Richard Flohil’s liner notes, partly cribbed from previous releases in the series, provides insight into the Stony Plain story and details however briefly the manner in which the label has managed to survive from 8-tracks and vinyl to digital sales. For the uninitiated, this set is a brilliant, affordable introduction to the label. For those who have been along for much of the ride, it is a reminder of the importance of supporting those who make excellent music available.

Congratulations on 40 Years, Stony Plain Records, and kudos to Holger, Alvin Jahns, and everyone who has passed through the house in Edmonton’s west end.

40 years, 47 tracks, somewhere around $25: good deal, I’d suggest. Out June 3rd.

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