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World Music CD Reviews North American

Various Artists

By Paula Kirman
Published April 24, 2007

Sugar Hill Records: A Retrospective
Sugar Hill

Surviving in the music business is an uphill climb for an independent label. Lasting for over 25 years is almost miraculous. But when you note their combination of solid leadership and strong stable of artists and catalog of releases, it is in fact little surprise that Sugar Hill is still around and releasing the same kinds of music that established the company in the first place.
Created and owned by Barry Foss until it was acquired by Welk Music Group in the late ’90s (Foss remains active with the label), Sugar Hill has built its reputation by nurturing the careers of mostly bluegrass artists, many of whom are still with the label. This boxed set includes four CDs covering different time periods between 1978 and 2003.
Ricky Skaggs, Tim O’Brien, Nickel Creek, and dobro master Jerry Douglas are amongst the top names represented here, but there are also country artists whose work moves away from the mainstream, such as Robert Earl Keen, the late Townes Van Zandt, and storyteller Rodney Crowell. As explained on the bonus DVD, which contains a history of Sugar Hill as well as photos and music videos, these are artists who have a solid following. They may not sell enough units for a major label, but they sell enough for Sugar Hill.
Other acts on the collection include slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, Jesse Winchester, and singer/songwriters Guy Clark and James McMurtry. Even Dolly Parton gets back to her bluegrass roots, along with guest appearances by Emmylou Harris. In fact, the consistency and high level of musicianship displayed by the label’s artists has made many music fans and even competitors in the industry come to equate Sugar Hill with quality. The epitome of the label’s achievement, Sugar Hill: A Retrospective is a bluegrass and alt-country musical feast.