At a time when most indie labels have either lost their artistic punch, aligned with the majors, or simply folded, Chicago's Bloodshot Records has consistently delivered some of the finest altcountry (as they like to call it, "Insurgent Country") on the planet. Although by definition a limited genre defined in part by revivalist corndogs and CCR wannabes, Bloodshot has instead documented the music's myriad facets, from rockabilly and honky-tonk to blazing country punk, searing Western swing, and sad-eyed singer/songwriter laments.
The scope of the label's focus is brilliantly documented on Down to the Promised Land, a two-disc celebration of Bloodshot's first five years that includes pretty much everyone who's called the place home. Over the course of 40 previously unreleased tracks -- outtakes, covers, one-off collaborations -- Promised Land plays like a termite history of American music, at times reverent, other times goofy, and on a few tracks, emotionally gut-wrenching. The label's Windy City locale is celebrated with Dan Baird's Yahoos' "Oh! Chicago," while the twangy wordsmith Robbie Fulks fetes the label itself with "Bloodshot's Turning 5." Mekons frontman Jon Langford is all over the set: His Waco Brothers turn in a remarkable version of the Who's "Baba O' Riley," and back pub-rock curmudgeon Graham Parker on the Wacos' "See Willy Fly By"; his Western Swing side band the Pine Valley Cosmonauts back up the lovely diva Kelly Hogan on the Paul Burch nugget "13 Nights"; he sings alongside songwriting vet Chip Taylor on "Brixton," an account of the first overseas Bloodshot tour in 1997; and he takes a chorus on Alejandro Escovedo's definitive take on the Mick Jagger solo track "Evening Gown."
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Elsewhere you get Chapel Hill's Trailer Bride roaring through the Gun Club's "Ghost on the Highway," Mike Ireland sounding all kinds of torn up on "I'd Like To," Sally Timms and Andre Williams dueting on the positively creepy "Glue," and Nora O'Connor's self-explanatory "Looks Like I'm Up Shit Creek Again." The result is a winding midnight ride along the highway of Americana, a journey that Bloodshot has charted with a navigator's skill and a punk rocker's passion.