Fare Thee Well, Red House: A 10-song toast to the folk record label’s Minnesota legacy

Photo by Vladimir Agafonkin, Flickr

Photo by Vladimir Agafonkin, Flickr

St. Paul’s famed Red House Records—long known as a top label for folk and Americana artists—is Nashville-bound after being acquired by Compass Records Group.

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Officially established in 1983 by singer-songwriter Greg Brown and Bob Feldman, Red House Records has served as springboard for Midwest folk artists like Spider John Koerner and John Gorka, as well as many national musicians as Red House built a reputation as a premier folk and roots label.

With the acquisition, the St. Paul location is being shuttered, but the label’s Minnesota legacy will live on in the amazing music it has released over the years.

Here are 10 songs released on Red House Records over the years, showcasing the label’s amazing breadth of talent. (Scroll to the bottom of the page for a playlist of the songs.)

“Red Apple Juice” by Spider John Koerner, 1986

Minnesota’s renowned blue guitarist Spider John Koerner’s career has spanned five decades and, like any good folk artist, has given rise to many legends. Like the time in 1980 when Koerner gathered together a group of noted musicians and spent the night in the studio laying down tracks while a tornado raged outside. In 1986, Red House Records released the collection as an album under the title, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Been.” The song, “Red Apple Juice” was one of the tracks Koerner recorded that night.

 

“Spring Wind” by Greg Brown, 1992

After traveling the country to make it as a musician, Red House co-founder Greg Brown returned to his home state of Iowa and recorded two albums on his own: “44 & 66” and “The Iowa Waltz.” He moved to Minnesota to work on Garrison Keillor’s national radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” and toured nationally. When Greg teamed up with Bob Feldman in 1983, they re-released Greg’s first two albums under the name Red House Records—which has released nearly all of Greg’s 27 albums, including 1992’s “Dream Cafe,” where the song “Spring Wind” can be found.

 

“Buffalo Skinners (On the Trail of the Buffalo)” by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, 1995

When it comes to American folk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s roots run deeper than most. A runaway at 14 from his Brooklyn home, Elliott joined the rodeo and picked up the guitar. In 1950, he met Woodie Guthrie and toured alongside the famed folk artist. But Ramblin’ Jack soon rose to the highest echelon of the genre, inspiring artists like Bob Dylan who called him “King of the Folksingers” and Johnny Cash, who welcomed Elliott to his TV program by saying, Nobody I know—and I mean nobody—has covered more ground and made more friends and sung more songs than the fellow you’re about to meet right now.” Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s song “Buffalo Skinners (On the Trail of the Buffalo)” released on the album “South Coast” by Red House Records in 1995 is a prime example of the kind of American lore Elliott’s music carries with it even today.

 

“Long Time Traveller” by The Wailin’ Jennys, 2006

After earning a Juno Award for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year in 2005 for their debut album “40 Days” (released in 2004 by Red House Records), The Wailin’ Jennys’ continued their rise in the roots music scene with frequent appearances on Garrison Keillor’s public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.” On their next album, “Firecracker,” the trio ventured into the realms of alt-country, pop and rock. Garnering much attention, it was nominated for a Juno Award and won a 2007 Folk Alliance Award for Contemporary Release of the Year. Their traditional a cappella tune “Long Time Traveller” showcases the trio’s impeccable harmonies and effortless grace.

 

“Heart and Bones” by The Pines, 2009

The Pines are an example of how Red House Records has cultivated rising talent in the local roots music scene. The band’s 2009 album, “Tremolo,” is filled with tender and haunting moments that recall the Americana tradition with indie sensibilities. The Minnesota-based indie folk band laid the album down in just two days, which undoubtedly helped capture the raw and quavering undercurrent on tracks like “Heart and Bones.”

 

 

“Surrender to Love” by Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams, 2015

These two experienced musicians have played with everyone from Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, and Keith Richards to Paul Simon and Mavis Staples, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. Striking out on their own, the duo released their self-titled debut album on Red House Records in 2015. Their blend of roots rock imbues country ballads like “You’re Running Wild” with a refreshing energy. On “Surrender to Love,” Campbell and Williams capture the magic that made duos like Carter and Cash so electric on-stage.

 

“Remember Me If I Forget” by Charlie Parr, 2015

Charlie Parr’s gritty blues-soaked voice and furious guitar picking are lifted to new heights on 2015’s “Stumpjumper” thanks in part to the contributions of Phil Cook and a backing band. Songs like “Over the Red Cedar” highlight Parr’s keen storytelling abilities. But it’s the weeping, metallic slide guitar on “Remember Me If I Forget” that capture the blues spirit of Parr’s music, as it drives home the song’s message of the sad realities of growing old in America.

 

“Mississippi” by The Cactus Blossoms, 2016

The Cactus Blossoms’ sweet country melodies, throwing back to the era when the lines between country and rock ‘n’ roll were just beginning to form, are something to behold. On 2016’s “You’re Dreaming,” Page Burnum and Jack Torey bring listeners back to the 1960s with a collection of songs that shine with the brothers’ pitch perfect harmonies. The album was produced by fellow retro-rocker J.D. McPherson, and the song “Mississippi” even landed the Blossoms on the reboot of David Lynch’s sci-fi show, “Twin Peaks.”

 

“Baby Please” by Actual Wolf, 2017

“Faded Days” marks a new chapter for Actual Wolf. Paralleling frontman Eric Pollard’s move to California, the album is a departure from his earlier work. The label debut on Red House Records, “Faded Days” mixes Neil Young melodies with synthesizer and West Coast–infused pop licks. “Baby Please” is perhaps the most arresting song on the album, with Actual Wolf offering up a desperate pleas amid a hazy backdrop of heavy guitar riffs.

 

“Colorado” by Chastity Brown, 2017

The wandering spirit of Chastity Brown’s music is a perfect fit at Red House Records. Her latest release, “Silhouette of Sirens,” is a cohesive, flowing album brimming with country music themes of love, heartbreak, and cars racing down the road. But Brown broaches the subjects with a fresh perspective. On “Colorado,” Brown gives us a glimpse of life on the road, crossing the country and playing in small town bars. The track’s steady rhythm and soulful singing breathes life into the wide open expanses of the American landscape.

Playlist: A 10-song Toast to Red House Records

 
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About Brian Kaufenberg

Brian Kaufenberg is the managing editor, writer, and photographer at The Growler Magazine.