Every Record I Own - Day 214: Jeff Cowell Lucky Strikes & Liquid Gold
I’ve probably mentioned it at some point in these posts, but John Peel once said something to the effect that any music that was sent to the BBC was made by musicians who believed in their art strongly enough to invest the time, money, and effort into making a record, and if the record didn’t resonate with him, it wasn’t the fault of the musicians but rather his own inability to see the magic in it.
I think about that a lot. There are records I know I’ll never like because they work in a context that simply doesn’t exist in my life. Like, there’s not really a point in my investigating American dubstep because I’m not someone that wants to take molly and dance my ass off at an EDM festival. But I mainly think about it in terms of which artists blow up and have huge careers and which artists operate in obscurity. Some bands are able to find their audiences, and some aren’t. Any obsessive music fan likely has some local artist or band they love that can’t draw a crowd outside of their county, and that music fan also probably grumbles about the success of some hip national band doing a weaker version of the same sound. But part of that love for the hometown hero has to do with the context of their orbit. You love the local group because their music speaks to your experience, and that might have a lot to do with the context of your environment.
Reissue labels like Numero Group do an excellent job of digging up hidden gems and establishing a context that broadens the appeal of an artist. Lucky Strikes & Liquid Gold is a solid collection of folk ballads, but there was no shortage of that stuff in the ‘70s. And while there were probably people in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who loved their local legend, Jeff Cowell, he didn’t have the means to reach people outside of his lonesome corner. However, Numero’s presentation of Lucky Strikes as a lost Americana treasure from the backwoods of the Midwest by a down-and-out troubadour somehow increases its appeal. Even the whole trend of referring to old self-released albums as “private pressings” somehow increases the prestigious exclusivity of these records that were, for all intents and purposes, the ‘70s equivalent to the endless stock of unloved compact discs over at cdbaby.com.
One could argue that it’s just better advertising and better packaging. But I imagine that John Peel would argue that Numero Group just does an excellent job helping people see the magic in artists like Jeff Cowell. He might not have had radio airplay and he might not have operated in a region with a thriving music community, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t craft great songs.