I've several times mentioned that—after 25 years reviewing rock, progrock, neoclassical, jazz, and outside musics in national magazines—reviewing in the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange catalyzed a major shift in my entire listening consciousness. Things opened up aesthetically in a fashion that was completely unexpected; in zen, you'd call it a kensho. Part of this was due to FAME's publisher-editor Dave Pyles allowing me 100% complete freedom in choice and style and part was due to labels like PineCastle, Rural Rhythms, and Stony Plain, all of which damn near shocked me with their quality and stratospherically authentic and progressive roots musics. Years ago, I had chosen FAME as a possible venue upon advice from Perfect Sound Forever's editor-publisher Jason Gross, as, after tempestuous residencies in a number of review magazines, I'd refrained from CD critiques for too long (PSF is strictly essay format and eclectic as hell) and felt the need not only to get back to it but was dying to expand my enjoyment of folk, blues, bluegrass, and other musics I'd always liked immensely but never enjoyed any position in truly knowing what was out there. FAME cured that, the music of cats like David Bromberg, John Sebastian, Dan Hicks, and others standing in the gap until I landed here and jumped into the deep end of the pool.
What caught me up into Stony Plain was the presence of Duke Robillard, who has the uncanniest knack of reconciling what had otherwise been the too discordant timbre of 50s sonics to my 60s/70s ears. I found that, though SP exercises consummate taste in its entire catalogue, what the Duke was doing, whether playing or producing, very quickly clicked like a fiend for me. Frankly, I came to the table prepared to chuckle at the attempt of anyone present or absent to "talk" me, rather famed as a cynic and something of a later days rock curmudgeon, into the previous generation's rock and roll ethos; instead, I walked away with notably more attuned sensibilities. Sometimes, it's a good thing to lose a battle or two. Thus, it was with interest that I looked forward to this retrospective anthology not just for the great cuts or the eight unreleased numbers, nor even the DVD of performances by Jeff Healey and others, but for that bonus of the 10-minute tour of the Stony Plain facility. Interested in the mechanics of the business, in what creates these music oases in the decadence of a mainstream arts realm otherwise in slow decay, curious whether I could discern what was contravening that entropy, I knew there would be a hidden grail awaiting.
And I wasn't wrong. The answer to a growing querulousness lay in the interview with label president Holger Petersen, who, once Stony Plain had succeeded to a decent degree, decided to expand corporately and began licensing, distribution, and all the standard adjuncts of the corporate maw, activities that soon replaced art in the equation and "became more of an administrative job" than he'd ever counted on. Realizing the mistake, the gent backpedalled and settled forevermore for a smaller company, a hands-on venture that would remain his vision, not someone else's, certainly not that of a board of stockholders. Peterson, you see, is first and foremost a fan, and the house from which he and SP operate is a treasure trove of music and artistic paraphernalia (and looks a lot like my own abode!). That, ladies 'n gents is the difference right there, that decision NOT to become a soulless automatonic leviathan and instead find the right level of operation that didn't sacrifice aesthetics and excellence for ducats. Petersen did not wish to erase the joy of art for the thin pleasures of chasing the dollar for the dollar's sake. Of the artists he signs, he decided it was cardinal that he "let them do what they do so well" rather than craft each by the dictates of corporate strategies. Therein lie-eth all the difference in the world: Holger Petersen understands art and artists. I breathed a sigh of relief and uttered a soft "Yes!".
Then there's the rest of this generous package: 21 cuts on the first CD, 20 on the second, and 10 performances on the DVD as well as that cool inside look at the label premises, which are as humble, personable, and ground-level as the man who started it all. Stony Plain ages ago picked up Long John Baldry and Ellen McIlwaine after their stars had seemingly eclipsed. The label's also helped underwrite Maria Muldaur's re-emergence after too hasty a mainstream demise, and you even get a dose of—be still, my beating heart!—the gods of Tex-Mex, Asleep at the Wheel (whoops! I meant 'the latter-day gods'; sorry, Mr.Wills!). Unpublished work by Robert Nighthawk, Bob Carpenter, and King BiscuitBoy are likewise proffered, and you cannot find a better intro or more lavish acquaintance with exactly what Stony Plian and its roster are all about. Friends, Romans, and countrymen, there is no sin in epicurean excess, and here a long table of the ambrosian delights is laid out for you.
Thus, if you came to this review looking to read analyses of the great tracks, my apologies, but you can glom plenty of reviews of the original issuances of these great works and others written by me, Frank Gutch, Bob Gottlieb, and various FAME scribes at your leisure on another day. Every so often I find it important to laud those behind the scenes because, as an aesthete perpetually jonesing for ever more and ever better art, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to cats like Petersen who supply my fix in impeccable style. I hate the business world with a venomous passion, but once in a while someone comes along who is willing to tackle that dangerous end of the stick (along with his whiz-bang pard, Alvin Jahns) and ensure that the middle holds as all sides of the equation benefit. I'm an atheist, but…thank you, Jesus!!
However, even gratitude has its borders, especially with lazy bastard writers like me, and I'm damned if I'm going to list 52 lines of artists, song titles, and writing credits! Thus, let me emulate the reverse liner of the 4-fold digipack (we're loving this move away from jewel cases, aren't we?) and just show ya who's appearing. Should that chagrin, remember the old saw: brickbats to the editor, roses to the author. Works for me.
[Editor's note: Stony Plain was kind enough to list the artists and titles on their web site, so I added the titles. I didn't add the writing credits, though. You'll just have to buy the album to get those.—Dave Pyles]
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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