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Music Review: Various Artists – 35 Years Of Stony Plain

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Founder Holger Petersen probably couldn’t have guessed it would come to this when he launched his little label; it’s been thirty-five years now since Stony Plain’s humble beginnings around a kitchen table. Petersen remains the label’s creative visionary, and the man certainly has both eclectic and impeccable taste. Petersen loves ‘roots music’ – as he himself says in a brief liner essay, “Hard to define, but we at Stony Plain know it when we hear it, and so do you.”

What do record labels do to mark significant milestones? They put out samplers, designed to introduce their music to a new audience through budget collections that offer superb value. And so we get Stony Plain’s latest, a celebration of thirty-five remarkable years, with two CD’s of music culled from an astonishingly rich and varied catalogue, along with a DVD featuring videos and interviews, among other features.

The collection is divided thematically – disc one is labeled “Singers, Songwriters, and much, much more …”, while disc two is billed as “Blues, R&B, Swing, Jazz, and even more …”. Within those broad categories, though, the variety is breathtaking. Disc one features tracks from Maria Muldaur, Jeff Healey (in his early-jazz incarnation), Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Asleep At The Wheel, and Canada’s own Blue Rodeo, as well as a handful of previously unreleased tracks by the late Bob Carpenter. Disc two features the likes of Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Jay McShann, Jeff Healey (this time in a bluesy mood with a live cover of Freddie King’s “I’m Tore Down”), and Long John Baldry, in addition to an unreleased track from King Biscuit Boy and no less than four unearthed treasures from influential Chicago slide master Robert Nighthawk. Finally, the ‘free bonus DVD’ features documentary footage (including rare clips of Healey’s final sessions) and music videos (check out the vintage Downchild!) as well as a video tour of Stony Plain’s Edmonton offices.

With a catalog of some 400 albums to choose from, selecting songs for inclusion must have been a daunting task indeed. Yet such is the overall quality of Stony Plain’s output; in truth it would be hard to go wrong. There’s not a weak track in the bunch, and while highlights will vary from listener to listener, those with a taste for roots music in general – again, you know it when you hear it – will find this a delightful collection with a surprise around every turn.

If you’re familiar with any of Stony Plain’s impressive talent roster, you’ll find this a tantalizing introduction to other worthy artists. If you simply want a no-filler, all-killer compilation that touches on everything rootsy, you simply won’t find a compilation offering a more varied yet consistently high-quality playlist.

Here’s looking forward to Stony Plain celebrations of many more milestones, for many years to come!

About John Taylor