For the past 25 years, Red House Records has been one of America's premiere independent record labels. Based in Saint Paul Minnesota, NOT Los Angeles, New York or Nashville, Red House is the label of choice for some of the most creative songwriters and performers. VOA's Katherine Cole reports on a new release that includes music from some of the Red House stalwarts including Eliza Gilkyson, Jorma Kaukonen, and the label's first recording artist, Greg Brown.
Greg Brown has been with Red House Records since day one. In fact, the label was originally created by Brown in 1981, as a way to distribute his own recordings. It was named for a farmhouse in Iowa where he was living. In 1983, the late Bob Feldman took over the day-to-day operations from Brown, and the current day Red House Records was born.
Over the next few years, the label roster grew, first attracting performers from the midwest states, including John Gorka, who brought attention to the label in 1987, after Rolling Stone magazine declared him "the preeminent male singer-songwriter of the new folk movement."
Gorka is one of 17 Red House artists with songs on their 25th anniversary compilation CD, Our Side of Town. His contribution is "When You Sing," from the 2006 CD, Writing In The Margins. Gorka says the song was inspired by gospel legend Mavis Staples, one of his musical heroes.
"Our Side of Town," isn't just a look back at the early years of Red House, it also gives an indication of what we can expect to hear in the future.
In addition to songwriting legends like Greg Brown and John Gorka, Our Side of Town shines a light on some of the younger artists who are recording for the label. 29-year-old Meg Hutchison has just released "Come Up Full", her first CD on Red House. She says the album is about encountering good things when you least expect it.
Meg Hutchinson describes "Ready" as a song about our ability to overcome life's most-trying times. That is a theme that seems to resonate throughout Red House Records as the independent label celebrates the past 25 years, and the amazing feat of staying in business when other independent record labels have failed.
The past few years have not been easy ones. In 2006, Red House was rocked by the death of its founder and president, Bob Feldman. That blow, combined with a downturn in traditional album sales due to the digital revolution raised serious questions about the label's future. But Red House embraced the digital world and quickly made their catalog available for download, a move that some compeitors in the roots music world had been reluctant to do.
Red House Records is staying current on the music side of things as well, signing new artists and developing talent.
Our Side of Town, the new CD celebrating 25 years of Red House Records, contains a good mix of songs from newcomers including the Wailin' Jennys, Storyhill and The Pines, along with prime tracks from stalwarts Ray Bonneville, Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson.