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Various Artists

Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots – 2019 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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The first time we encountered the term 'insurgent country,' we were in the mid-90s. The roots-rock music world was quickly evolving, and a Chicago-based upstart called Bloodshot Records was putting out compilations featuring groups involving the likes of Jon Langford (and his Hillbilly Lovechild), Freakwater, Robbie Fulks, The Handsome Family and a bunch of folks who didn't become household names.

Slow-forward a quarter century and roots music includes a defiantly broader spectrum, and Bloodshot Records is still putting out releases featuring the likes of Jon Langford (and his Hillbilly Lovechild), Freakwater, Robbie Fulks, The Handsome Family and a bunch of folks who aren't likely to become household names.

"Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots" picks through the wreckage to provide a contemporary overview of the state of roots rock and Americana within the 312. The majority of the music continues to be spot-on ideal for those who appreciate a bit of grit within their country.

The well-known characters provide the expected high-calibre material - especially Freakwater interpreting "Sticky Finger's" "Sway" and Robbie Fulks' new nugget of melancholic, bluegrass truth, "Lonely Ain't Hardly Alive"- but, as with the original BS 001 "For a Life of Sin," it is the abundance of new sounds that places this new volume high within the canon.

New names such as Big Sadie ("You Never Told Me"), The Family Gold ("The Sun Is Going Down") and David Quinn ("Long Time Gone") contribute strong originals that should become familiar favorites. Wild Earp & the Free For Alls kick the set off with the vibrant "The Last Honky Tonk in Chicago," and The Saluda Moonlighters maintain the theme - incorporating western swing - with "Honky Tonkin' in the Moonlight."

The uncontainable Kelly Hogan brings Floyd Tillman's "Gotta Have My Baby Back" back, ROOKIE turns Tears for Fears' "Head Over Heels" inside out, and Brendan Kelly & the Wandering Birds refresh (and vocally deepen) a more recent song, Loretta and Willie's (by way of Mark Marchetti) "Lay Me Down."

Not to be outdone, The Handsome Family cap the project with Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song," while The Hoyle Brothers bring a bit of Bakersfield (and more) to Illinois with "A Little Bit of Buck."

Compilations, at their best, combine the familiar with the unknown around a unified theme. Bloodshot has done that many times over 25 years. "Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots" continues the tradition.