Every month or so I bestow praise to a particularly fantastic Spotify playlist that has captured my heart. This month, it's a sprawling twofer as we look at the wide-ranging playlist champs at Numero Group and a label loaded with talent, Paradise of Bachelors.
In the overwhelming vastness of Spotify, being an amazing music label with some of the best artists out there doesn't always translate to great playlists. It goes without saying that some labels have an active presence on Spotify in a very begrudging way and see it as a necessary evil. For these labels, their apathy is evident in half-assed playlists that might as well be titled "I Don't Feel Like Spending More Than a Few Minutes on This" and "Don't Ask Me to Do Anything More Than Collect Our Singles."
Thankfully, it sounds like streaming services are slowly getting better about payment schemes, so hopefully labels will become more engaged and creative about using playlists to their advantage. After all, there's no denying that these 21st Century mixtapes are the best way to rack up millions of plays and attract new fans. So it's in everyone's best interest for a label to craft killer playlists on the reg, even if it means including some artists they aren't directly affiliated with.
Two of my favorite labels of the past few years are Numero Group, which has some of the best playlists around, and Paradise of Bachelors, which has been quietly upping its game.
Numero Group is Chicago-based and started in 2003 as saviors of nearly forgotten artists who would otherwise be lost to time. Since they specialize in reissues, Numero Group is perfectly suited for curating playlists with strong themes and deep cuts that highlight one microgenre or another -- such as their Cosmic American playlist.
Cosmic American Music was released in early 2016 as part of Numero's astounding "Wayfaring Strangers" series, and it's filled with lonesome cowboy rock n roll that is often tinged with soul-searching psychedelia and bittersweet longing. The album only had space for 19 perfect tunes, but their playlist is currently at 118 songs that thoroughly explore the space where country meets rock and experimental cowboys aren't afraid to get a bit heady and existential. Yes, this is Gram Parsons country, where The Byrds, Buck Owens, Townes Van Zandt and Nashville Skyline era Bob Dylan reside. This is endlessly rewarding music and naturally it makes for a tremendous playlist.
The "Wayfaring Strangers" series is also home to the Lonesome Heroes and Guitar Soli albums that collect music from acoustic guitar gods like Max Ochs, Sandy Bull, Robbie Basho and those who follow in their footsteps. As such, the mostly instrumental "American Primitive: The Numero Guide to Fingerstyle Guitar" playlist has been a constant companion of mine for the extended periods of type-type-typing that makes up a large part of my days.
But Numero group is much more than country-fried rock and Americana, there's obscure and magical Girl Group bands, the fired-up Latino rock in their "Cult Cargo" series, the consistently amazing "Eccentric Soul" series and vital reissues from artists like The Creation, Unwound, Bedhead and Joanna Brouk.
Paradise of Bachelors
Paradise of Bachelors is a North Carolina-based outlet that definitely carries a torch for the kind of music found in the "Cosmic American" cannon. Some of their recently released Southern-inflected albums that I'm particularly fond of are Nathan Bowles's psych-banjo jam Whole & Cloven, Jake Xerxes Fussell's blues time machine What in the Natural World. They've also recently reissued Terry Allen's outlaw urban cowboy masterworks Juarez and Lubbock (on everything).
PoB is also home to the sprawling road trip rock of Steve Gunn and a couple of other bands that are keeping guitar-based rock n' roll alive and well: the spiky and anxious Nap Eyes and the genre-defying grooves of Gun Outfit. And next week we'll see the release of James Elkington's solo debut Wintres Woma, which should be exciting for anyone who digs the works of Steve Gun, Joan Shelly or Jeff Tweedy -- all acts he's contributed his amazing guitar skills to.
So, now you have a pretty good idea of the impeccable tastes of those running the shop at Paradise of Bachelors. It would stand to reason that these tastes would lead to a collection of brilliant playlists that compile their wide-ranging influences, but it's only been recently that the self-described "curators" at PoB have begun curating some great playlists.
It would appear the founders, Christopher Smith and Brenden Greaves, may have been spurred on by a November 2016 piece by Aquarium Drunkard that produced their first truly great playlist -- a science-fiction literature inspired freak-out entitled "The True Topography".
Since then they've gone the less inspired route of having some of their artists put together playlists -- specifically, Nathan Bowles and Jake Xerxes Fussell. Bowles's own Spotify page already has more than a few playlists but this one, titled "Spring Shadows" is more eclectic, is not a bit dissonant, featuring deep cuts from Lou Reed, Alice Coltrane and Richard Thompson. But if I have to pick one as being the real playlist for the ages, I have to tip the hat to Jake's "Summer's Hear: Songs & Tunes of Heat & Delight" playlist. It's truly a revelatory collection of blues from around the world and throughout time.
When Kristy MacColl comes cutting through, so clean after the scratchy, distant ache of "Oh Cap'n", it's a moment worthy of rejoice. MacColl's tune also makes for a nice contrast with Sharon Burch, who follows with pleads from the heart of the Navajo -- but both songs have a bounce to them that carries the playlist along, into Mexico, Ireland, Arkansas and elsewhere. Each song is really a beauty and this playlist, clocking in at just under 90 minutes, is built for frequent replays and multiple occasions. Well done, Mr. Fussell and Paradise of Bachelors.