Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rounder Records' 40th Anniversary

Rounder Records at 40

Airing on PBS stations this month (beginning Saturday) is "Rounder Records' 40th Anniversary Concert," a celebration of the storied and thriving Massachusetts-based independent music label. Artists performing range from bluegrass superstars Alison Krauss and Union Station to New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas, singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, rocking actress Minnie Driver, multigenre banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas. They're all on the Rounder label—in some cases, for decades. (A companion CD with additional performances included is being released Wednesday, and an extended DVD on May 4.)

For the most part, independent record labels come and go, or get swept up into larger music-making conglomerates with new management, often with little institutional memory at all. Remarkably, Rounder—begun in 1970 with a recording of old-time banjo player George Pegram, and the home last year of the Grammy-winning Album of the Year (Alison Krauss and Robert Plant's "Raising Sand")—is still helmed, if with a much larger executive staff, by the same three roots-music aficionados who started up the company with no industry experience whatsoever. The '60s folk-music revival was waning, and the whole range of music that Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy and Bill Nowlin loved was becoming frustratingly hard to find.

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