It's a magnanimous record company indeed that celebrates its own 20th anniversary by inviting artists from other labels to join in the festivities. Then again, this is Chicago's Bloodshot Records after all, the insurgent outfit out of Chicago that's made its mark by booting tradition up the backside.
Consequently, the 2-disc, 38-song set "While No One Was Watching: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records" puts a new spin on the usual catalogue compilation by inviting a generous assortment of outside indie auteurs to replay songs from the acts on their roster. It's an impressive list of participants to be sure: Blitzen Trapper, Chuck Prophet, Ted Leo, The Minus 5, Andrew Bird, Superchunk and Mike Watt are among the notables that lend their time and talents, turning in a superb set of performances that ensure this collection measures up as far as both the music and the marquee.
Still, there would be no basis for celebration were it not for the bastions of Bloodshot themselves. It's an impressive set of songs that comes courtesy of Ryan Adams, Justin Townes Earle, Wayne Hancock, Cory Branan, Alejandro Escovedo, Jon Langford and Bottle Rockets, all of whom formed the label's rank and final at one point in the company's ongoing evolution. Likewise, the music itself offers testimony to the label's industrial impact, with tracks like "Come Pick Me Up," "I'll Trade You Money for Wine," "Things I Didn't Say" and "My Backyard" all belying Bloodshot's renegade image.
Given the unorthodox mix of singers and source material, and the fact that the sounds herein come from such disparate sources, it wouldn't be quite right to think of this album as either an ideal introduction or a superior sampler. It would be better by far to browse through the Bloodshot catalogue and then investigate the individual artists. However, in terms of pure impressions and ingenuity, "While No One Was Watching" proves both moving and memorable.