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Stuff music-lovers’ stockings with quirky indie rock, Americana or blues
By By Thomas Crone • Cover art of “Blind Cat Black” courtesy of Hoobellatoo and Skuntry
Posted On: 11/30/2006   

Every so often, a conversation crops up about the needs of the local music scene. One of the most popular threads in that discussion is the lack of that one, definitive local record label that releases guaranteed, quality records and – just as importantly – has a bit of commercial appeal as well.

True enough. But there are plenty of local folks who create and release quality works, even if they often do so to smaller-than-desired audiences. And since it’s the time of year when people often do a bit of extra shopping, we’ll throw out a few options for holiday musical spending, with an emphasis on some specialty labels.

We’ll start by highlighting the Bert Dax Cavalcade of Stars, an indie-rock imprint that’s been run by local musician and critic Matt Harnish, primarily known for his work with the long-running band Bunnygrunt. His evolving Bert Dax project has produced releases from that band and a variety of other local acts, but the label’s local credibility comes in large part from the annual “A Very Bert Dax Christmas,” now in its fifth year of offering up yule-themed songs by local groups. Strangely, two of the album’s cuts are call-and-response tracks (from Peanuts and Walkie Talkie USA) that cite this columnist in their titles.

“I’m always amazed that enough people care each year to make it worth my while to keep doing these Christmas CDs,” Harnish said. This year’s CD will “feature Rats & People, Walkie Talkie USA, SkareKrau Radio, The Bureau, The Monads and more. Eleven tracks total.”

Though Harnish admitted to scaling back the overall scope of his release schedule, he added, “Next year will see the release of ‘I’m So Young: Punk & New Wave In St. Louis, 1977-1983,’ which is a compilation I’m putting together with Jason Rerun from KDHX, and a split 7-inch (or two, or three), for which I’ll be teaming up with a couple other little labels around the country.”

Unfortunately, the label doesn’t have a single, organized Web presence, but the high-quality independent record stores in town carry Dax discs, especially the “Very Bert Dax” offerings. (To see a review, go to page 56.) You can also expect a couple of “fancy” release shows around town in December, featuring many of the acts that contributed to “A Very Bert Dax.”

Also on the unique end of things is “Blind Cat Black,” a 28-track album released by the twin arts collectives Skuntry and Hoobellatoo. The CD is clearly in the family of releases that these two cross-country labels have produced, with a huge variety of local acts (Three Fried Men, Tim McAvin, Fred Friction, Tom Hall) contributing music to lyrics that were translated from the poems of the late Turkish writer Ece Ayhan.

If that sounds a bit esoteric, well, that’s often that way that Hoobellatoo and Skuntry releases come off sounding. Led in large part by St. Louis American editorial director Chris King, the works on these affiliated labels often are given over to musicians reaching their later years, with several of the releases coming out posthumously. In each case, the albums are full of originality and unexpected moments, as on “Blind Cat Black,” which mixes curious amounts of salty, off-color poetry with music that spans all kinds of genres (though, admittedly, an Americana tinge colors many of the cuts).

Attacking the genre of good old-fashioned American blues is Broke & Hungry Records, which is described on its Web site as being “headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, a city well known for its contribution to blues music. But the label’s initial focus is on capturing the rough, country blues sounds that have emanated from the Mississippi Delta for nearly a hundred years. These were the blues that first captured the attention of the label’s founder when he began immersing himself in the music during his late teens.”

That founder, Jeff Konkel, pokes a bit of fun at himself in those introductory comments, saying, “Konkel is a veteran public relations practitioner and avowed blues fan. He has no experience in the music industry. There are some who contend he has no business in it.”

The label’s debut came earlier this year with “Back to Bentonia,” by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, which is joined in the company’s two-CD-deep online store by “Searching for Odell Harris,” the first release by the 66-year-old Southern songwriter.

While a couple of bluesy labels been have busily mining the American South in recent years, offering up debuts like this one, there’s nothing saying that a local label shouldn’t engage in the same work, bringing some unknown acts into the public consciousness.

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