Since 1994, Bloodshot Records has championed the areas where “punk, country, pop, bluegrass, blues and rock ‘n’ roll mix and mingle and mutate,” according to their website. To celebrate their 25th anniversary, the company is releasing their newest album “Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots,” which is a revival of their first-ever album “For a Life of Sin.” From the cowboy cyclops to the dinosaur, this album’s cover is representative of its contents, ranging from bluegrass to folk to even rock and roll.
The album, which was released on Friday, is a 22-song compilation of never-before-released tracks, including artists such as Wild Earp & The Free for Alls, The Saluda Moonlighters, and Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild. Bloodshot Records claims this album is a “magnifying-glass look” at the artists and groups creating unique music for Chicago’s underground roots scene, as portrayed through their impressive array of artists they have compiled.
According to Bloodshot Records’ literature, this album serves as a rebellion against traditional styles of music. It is symbolic of the Chicagoan hustle, and its music is shaped by the city’s diverse atmosphere. Upon first impression, this album is an impressive display of musical craftsmanship and of genre fusion. It lacks a distinct style, yet is an amalgamation of Chicago’s underground roots scene.
The similarities between the cover art of “Too Late to Pray” and “For a Life of Sin” are the result of Jon Langford, the artist of each album cover. Langford sells his artwork at Yard Dog Art, a gallery in Austin, Texas, and his music is featured on both albums. There are parallels between the two album covers, which is most likely a calculated effort on Langford’s part. On the cover of “Too Late to Pray,” a floating angel-like figure is seen carrying a banner bearing the word ‘SIN,’ reminiscent of a similar figure holding a banner in “For a Life of Sin.”
Another parallel between the two covers is the character wearing the skeleton suit. In “For a Life of Sin,” a man is featured wearing a suit with a skeleton imprint on it. In “Too Late to Pray,” a skeleton is featured in the same outfit, only in this version, the figure bears feathered wings. The parallels between the two albums can be symbolic of how the music scene and Bloodshot Records have evolved over the past 25 years.
“Too Late to Pray” includes covers such as “Liza Jane” recorded by The Dyes (originally sung by David Bowie), “Tower of Song” recorded by The Handsome Family (originally sung by Leonard Cohen) and “Lay Me Down,” recorded by Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds (originally sung by Loretta Lynn). This album also features never-before-released songs such as “Wearing White” by Half Gringa, “I Wrote You a Song” by The Lawrence Peters Outfit and “Dinosaur” by Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome.
Some track favorites include “I am a Big Town,” sung by Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild. This “country-punk” group last appeared on “For a Life of Sin” in 1944 with their song “Over the Cliff.” This group features Steve Albini, Tony Maimone, John Szymanski and Jon Langford. “I Am a Big Town” combines styles of country and indie music to synthesize an entirely new genre.
Another track favorite is, “Yeah Yeah Yeah” by Los Gallos, a Tex-Mex, Chicago-based band composed of Ric Salazar, Enrique Fajardo, Jose Galarza, Tito Tejeda and Joaquin Fajardo. This high-energy piece is the embodiment of revolutionary country music with a playful drum beat and a catchy guitar riff, which is interrupted by unique yet distorted guitar shredding. This feel-good song is created for partying as evidenced by the danceable rhythms and lighthearted energy.
Coincidentally, the next song in the setlist is another track favorite. Joybird’s “The Sweetness” is a sharp contrast from “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and is a slow indie tune featuring an underlying fiddle melody. Jess McIntosh’s voice is the song’s focal point as it carries throughout the song, blending and interacting with harmonies throughout the tune. Members of the band include McIntosh, Aaron Smith and Bill Harris.
“Too Late to Pray” is a staggering display of excellence for Bloodshot Records. Not only does the company show off the wide array of brands underneath its label, but each genre in the album also compliments one another in some way. Along with the song choice, the placement of the songs on the setlist was obviously meticulously conceived. Each song on this album was carefully selected and positioned to create a fluid transition between the shifting styles of music. However, “Tower of Song,” sung by The Handsome Family, seemed too lethargic to be placed at the end of the album’s setlist. For such a riveting album, this stylistic choice led to a languid song concluding the compilation.
True to their word, Bloodshot Records’ “Too Late to Pray” was born out of the efforts of artists creating music in Chicago’s roots scene. However, the Chicagoan hustle was not specifically portrayed in the album’s repertoire. In a broader sense, the ‘hustle’ was the product of artists who developed unparalleled interpretations of genre experimentation.
At its core, “Too Late to Pray,” is produced by the fusion of genres which should reasonably not sound good together. In an unexpected turn of events, Bloodshot Records has created an album that will have a song for every fan of music.