Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mark Learns About a Label: Rounder Records

I always thought of Rounder Records as a sleepy folk-music label, a place to go for Woody Guthrie re-releases and the like.  Then, late last year, I came across the rollicking album Ode to Sunshine on Rounder by roots-rock band Delta Spirit.  And then their Alison Krauss collaboration with Robert Plant, Raising Sand, won five Grammys.   Clearly, I have not been paying attention to what this Massachusetts-based imprint has been doing. 

Rounder has its share of releases that appear to be an attempt to make a quick buck on nostalgia (a new Dennis DeYoung album is one, sad example).  With their major artists, however, Rounder has built up a roster of talent that stays true to its identity as a home for Americana while reaching out to listeners who have no particular interest in the genre.  Records such as Ode to Sunshine and Raising Sand, both clearly rooted in traditional American music, are good rock records that anyone can love. 

Founded in 1970 by Cambridge folkies Ken Irwin and Bill Nowlin, Rounder's first release in 1971 was a recording by 76-year-old banjo player George Pegram.  In the late 1970s, they started putting out albums by George Thorogood, raising their profile and earning them some cash.  In addition to Alison Krauss, which began recording for them in 1987, and Delta Spirit, Rounder is home to jazz singer Madeline Peyroux and Bela Fleck, whose Christmas album Jingle All the Way also won a Grammy this year. 

Personal injury lawyer and amateur music scholar Michael Scully recently published a book on Rounder and you can check out the Rounder Records website for more information.