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Bloodshot Records celebrates 15th anniversary with concert series

Music lovers know that you can't judge an album by its cover, but often the record label is a fairly strong hint about the quality of the music inside. Most of the truly great record labels -- Stax/Volt, Blue Note, Motown, SST, Decca -- are so synonymous with a certain sound that you get a pretty good clue about what kind of music you're getting, too.

Chicago's Bloodshot Records -- celebrating its 15th year in business with a series of concerts, beginning Saturday night in Pittsburgh -- isn't quite at the aforementioned labels' level (yet). But for anyone interested in great roots-based rock 'n' roll, anything with the "Bloodshot Records" label is always worth listening to.

"It's all got some kind of roots or classic American tropes running through it, be it the Bottle Rockets or some more overtly country stuff like Wayne Hancock, or soul music like the Detroit Cobras," says Bloodshot co-founder Rob Miller.

"I kind of go through life thinking everyone's record collection is full of the Cramps and Howlin' Wolf, and Johnny Cash and Sex Pistols, and people don't really draw distinct lines between them -- well, I've discovered that's not really the case. We just like artists who take these traditional forms and molest them in their own special way and come up with something new and fresh."

The Bloodshot Beer-B-Q at the Smiling Moose in the South Side shows off Bloodshot's irreverent diversity rather well, with six bands, starting with the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir.

"They have a great love of Morrissey-era Britpop, and funnel that through a love of more punk stuff and the Pogues," Miller says. "It's kind of a raggedy collective -- they get up there and sing broken-hearted love songs about how your ex-girlfriend is a jerk.

"The Dex Romweber Duo -- you may know him from the Flat Duo Jets. He just recorded a seven-inch (single) with Jack White (of the White Stripes), a longtime admirer. Ha Ha Tonka have been getting a lot of Kings of Leon comparisons. They're from the Ozarks, really tight, really good. The Deadstring Brothers are like (the Rolling Stones') 'Exile on Main Street' as seen through the eyes of Detroit."

So Bloodshot is a little bit rock, a little bit country -- and you might as well throw in soul, punk, pop, bluegrass, blues and soul while you're at it. But after a few fantastic albums in the mid-'90s by Neko Case, The Old 97s and others, the "alternative country" tag has been hard to shake. Miller feels that's too simplistic, and the label doesn't get credit for its diversity.

"I think it's incredibly limiting," Miller says. "It's a term that when everyone coined (it), everyone here would just roll our eyes. Here, you're taking this incredibly broad spectrum of sounds and influences, capabilities and competencies and whatever, and just lumping it into a little glib hyphenate.

"On my good days, I just ignore it, and on my bad days I just want to go in my basement and hit things with a baseball bat. It just cheapens the whole thing."

The Beer-B-Q is an attempt to re-create Bloodshot Records' legendary events in Austin, Texas, during the South By Southwest conference, which started way back before anyone had heard of the label.

"The Pittsburgh one is free. We have six bands, there's food, if not free, extremely inexpensive beer specials, it's on the Fourth of July, there's an intermission to watch the fireworks, and the Bottle Rockets are headlining," Miller says. "Who better on the Fourth of July than the Bottle Rockets?"

Michael Machosky can be reached at 412-320-7901 or mmachosky@tribweb.com.

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