Album Review: Various Artists - Stony Plain 40 Years

By , Contributor

When Canada’s Stony Plain label turned ten years old, it celebrated with a compilation album of new and old material from its vaults. The record apparently met with some success, because the company has reprised the concept every five years since then. The latest release in the series is this 57-track, three-CD album, which marks the label’s 40th anniversary. The first disc focuses largely on singer/songwriters while the second features blues, R&B, gospel, swing, jazz, and more; the third contains a dozen rarities and previously unreleased tracks.

As the menu for the second CD suggests, this is not a company that limits itself to one or even a few musical genres; on the contrary, its artists are about as motley a crew as you could imagine. You likely know some of them—Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and Maria Muldaur, for example—because their material originally gained attention via American-label releases. Other artists here, including Ellen McIlwaine and Rory Block, are veteran U.S. performers who have never garnered the stateside acclaim that they deserve. Still others, like Jr. Gone Wild—described in the liner notes here as an early “punk country” band—are Canadian acts that remain south-of-the-border obscurities.

The only thing that all this stuff has in common is sufficient quality to explain why Stony Plain has endured to become Canada’s oldest independent record company. This is some of the crème de la crème from a first-rate catalog that includes nearly 400 albums, and highlights abound. Among them: a soulful “Louis Riel” from the late, great Doug Sahm; the emotive “Cottonwood Canyon” from the deservedly legendary Ian Tyson; “All to You,” from Ellen McIlwaine, whose bluesy vocals are just as mesmerizing as her slide guitar; a dreamy reading of Tyson’s “Blue Mountains of Mexico,” by Jennifer Warnes; and the gospel-tinged “Needed Time,” a blues/folk gem from Eric Bibb with backup from Taj Mahal, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Ruthie Foster.

Together, these three CDs contain more than three hours of memorable music—and the set is going for less than 18 bucks on Amazon. That’s what I call a deal.  

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon as well as Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters and Leonard Cohen…

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