Arhoolie Records and Alligator Records are not the only important independent labels that are celebrating an important milestone this year. Canadian Stony Plain Records is 35 years young and the label has a double CD celebration 35 Years of Stony Plain to celebrate that fact. In addition to the 41 varied performances, there is also a bonus DVD with some performances, such as Jay McShann and Johnnie Johnson together and special material such as a tour of Stony Plain’s headquarters. The booklet that comes with this release contains an essay from Richard Flohil that provides a concise overview of Stony Plain and the remarkable Holger Petersen who has been the force behind this remarkable label. The booklet also provides a concise overview of the marvelous contexts of the two CDs and the DVD.
I am not as familiar with the Stony Plain catalog, particularly since it’s catalog is not devoted to simply blues. Calling it a roots label is accurate and the first of the two CDs is subtitled “Singers, songwriters and much, much more …” The contents include folk, country and some swing jazz. Maria Muldaur is heard on a Dan Hicks song with backing that includes David Grisman and John Sebastian. Other highlights is the one of the explorations by the late Jeff Healy into early jazz with a wonderful revival of The Wildcat by Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti; country-folk troubadour Steve Earl; Canadian legend Ian Tyson; Tim Hus’ Country Music Lament on the sad state of today’s country music; Asleep at the Wheel’s Western Swing version of a Count Basie hit, That’s Your Red Wagon; the New Guitar Summit of Duke Robilliard, Jay Geils and Garry Beaudoin; Emmylou Harris singing Gram Parsons’ Wheels; Rodney Crowell; and three previously unissued Bob Carpenter demos. Most of this disc was totally new to me and delightful.
The second disc is subtitled “Blues, R&B, swing, jazz, and even more …” and contains more familiar material with some nice highlights from Joe Louis Walker, Jay McShann, Kenny ‘Blues Boy’ Wayne (this is a preview of his upcoming album) and Rosco Gordon from various recordings Duke Robillard has produced for the label. There is a terrific instrumental by Ronnie Earl from his most recent CD, Spread the Word, as well as a Rory Block song from her marvelous Mississippi Fred McDowell album. Its nice to hear selections from Sonny Rhodes and Billy Boy Arnold. This disc closes with a strong, unissued recording by the late Richard ‘King Biscuit Boy’ Newell, a fine harp player and singer; and four unissued sides from 1965 by Robert Nighthawk that likely were his last recordings. Nighthawk’s performance of Tampa Red’s You Missed a Good Man features particularly superb slide guitar.
This is a fine celebration of an important label that I will be returning to listen to. Stony Plain may be slightly cutting back on its release schedule compared to past years because of the changing nature of music and recording distribution. This reflects the hard reality of the fact few mortar and brick record stores still exist and digital downloads are increasingly important. Fans of blues, folk, country and other similar music need to support labels like Stony Plain that produce much terrific music that otherwise would not be so readily available. 35 Years of Stony Plain is well worth obtaining to savor the music, videos and the booklet. Here is to Stony Plain having another 35 years.
My copy was provided by the record company or a publicist for the label.