Various Artists

The Hightone Records Story (Hightone Records)

The Hightone Records Story is extremely likeable in concept. The imprint is a hardworking indie out of Oakland that has spent the last 20 years documenting modern roots music. In fact, Hightone has released records by some of the last, great bluesmen, including R.L. Burnside, Pinetop Perkins, Otis Rush, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and Henry Gray (all of whom are featured on this four-disc label retrospective). But the majority of this box set consists of legendary musicians sadly past their prime (Sonny Burgess and Hank Thompson), such costumed retro novelties as Big Sandy, and an ungodly number of country and “Americana” acts from the '80s and early '90s that all sound a little too much like John Cocaine Mellencamp during his “Pink Houses” phase. I mean, this stuff (the Blasters, Ted Roddy, the Skeletons, etc.) is just so totally retro that it makes even the Jayhawks sound edgy by comparison, which is ironic because America's folk tradition used to champion mavericks and radicals. At least, that's what Bob Wills taught us. — Justin F. Farrar

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