'The Never Ending Revival' by Michael F. Scully
THE NEVER-ENDING REVIVAL: ROUNDER RECORDS & THE FOLK ALLIANCE by Michael Scully (Univ. Illinois Press, 2008), 266 pages, hardbound. Scully, in a well researched and interesting book, traces the history of this unique record company from its tiny beginnings as a 3 member collective of college students to its current position as a powerful independent label that has had million-selling records (Alison Krauss). It is fascinating to follow the changes in the political, commercial and musical leanings of the three founders of the label, Ken Irwin, Bill Nowlin and Marian Leighton, in a relationship that, amazingly, has lasted for over 35 years now. While at first they shunned electric instruments as non-authentic, they eventually found a place for the R & B music of George Thorogood, who brought them their first “hit” record (and a lot of cash to use for other projects including Bluegrass acts). Depending on the reader’s personal slant, it will bring either smiles or cynical smirks to hear how the Rounders later resisted the unionization of their employees while at the same time issuing strong pro-union albums by people like Aunt Molly Jackson and other “artists” who projected more protest than music. Author Scully comes at his subject from the viewpoint of a “folk” music lover who grew up on the likes of Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs and Dave Van Ronk, and that accounts for the tie in with today’s Folk Alliance. Scully spends the better part of two chapters discussing Folklore, “Fakelore” and what he calls “The Great Boom” that started in the 1950s, before really getting into the Rounder story. It is interesting—if somewhat amusing—to follow Scully’s preoccupation with the “controversies that roil the folk music world”, and the search for some generally accepted definition of “Folk” music. Bluegrass has always been a mainstay of Rounder Records’ releases, and even though this book deals a lot more with other types of music and what exactly “folk” means, it will be of interest to fans of roots music in general. Suffice it to say that the Rounders would not have achieved the commercial success necessary to document and popularize a lot of marginal types of music (including Bluegrass) had they stuck to their original countercultural guns.