October 2006

Various Artists - Sugar Hill Records: A Retrospective
Sugar Hill SH 3999
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

When Barry Poss started Sugar Hill records in 1978, there was no alternate country, no Americana movement in music, no hip credibility for people who liked bluegrass and other music (beyond the blues) rooted in America’s past. In the beginning, Sugar Hill was just Barry Poss, a guy who had, "a passion for contemporary music rooted in tradition in some way, " as he describes it in his extensive liner notes to Sugar Hill: A Retrospective. Poss himself chose the 81 tracks that are heard on the four CDs of this set, which maps the label’s progress and musical diversity over the last 25 years. While Sugar Hill has kept itself within the confines of country, bluegrass, and folk music, it has signed musicians who stretch the boundaries of those genres.

The collection begins with Ricky Scaggs’ "Could You Love Me One More Time" from 1979. It was the first Sugar Hill single to make the Billboard charts when Poss was still running the label out of his apartment. It closes with "I’m Gonna Sleep with One Eye Open," from Dolly Parton’s first LP for the label, The Grass is Blue, from 1999. The tunes are not sequenced chronologically, although each disc covers a specific period in the label’s history. Some of the names on the label’s roster fill out the story: Nickel Creek, The Seldom Scene, Guy Clark, and Rodney Crowell.

The recordings on Sugar Hill are uniformly clean, with the instruments well separated and special attention paid to the timbre of acoustic instruments. More than a record label, Sugar Hill Records is a gift to American music.