Various Artists – Blue Collar Heavy

4 out of 5

Label: Salt of the Earth Records

Produced by: Various

Salt of the Earth Records is a label that, thus far, caters to a pretty particular sound: heavy, Southern- and psych-tinged sludge metal, generally with husky male vocals shouted atop. Plenty of labels highlight a style, but within that, you’ll generally find some off-the-beaten-path options, and variations; SOTER, though, is fairly one size fits all. That doesn’t mean there’s not a relative scale demarking how loud or hardcore or etc. the various groups are, but, plus or minus, it does kinda mean that if you like one band on the label, there are 16 others on this comp that sound pretty damn similar.

Bearing that in mind, ranking a sampler CD, for me, isn’t so much about the content as it is how effective that content is at providing an overview of what’s sampled, as well as enticing one to check out more, since that’s presumably the goal.

So Blue Collar Heavy certainly does its label a service in terms of giving you a full taste – since the palette is fairly monotone, all SOTER would have to do is give you a good selection of music from their releases to paint the picture, and these 17 tracks cover a wide range of their bands, or distributed ones. Secondly, I’d say there was some thought put in to sequencing that does help to bring out nuance: the set drifts between more country-fied bands to slightly more experimental ones to slightly more hardcore ones, and then cycles back around. It’s totally possible I’m making those divides up in my head, but regardless, within the range allowed by the roster, the mood / tone shifts at a good cadence to keep the record engaging.

Presentation wise, I think you get this free with any SOTER order (I did), so although it’s purchasable separately (for $6.66, natch), considering it’s essentially free, that it’s a CDr in a cardboard sleeve ain’t a knock, and I think it’s cool they listed the release each track was from, making it easier to source it if you want to check out more. At the same time, the list of tracks isn’t numbered and it’s a pretty cluttered layout, making it hard to scan and figure out who / what you’re hearing. Plus, not every single band has a release sold through SOTER (at this point, at least), so there’s the off-chance you have a couple of loops to jump through via google to find another way to purchase something, if you’re so inclined.

Lastly, to be especially nitpicky, some of the tracks are mastered way lower than the others, which I’ll assume goes back to the original recordings, but it can make for a bit of volume twiddling for a single listen.

But I think it can be said that those criticisms are all pretty minor for a giveaway, especially when – again, assuming you’re in line with the kinda stuff SOTER peddles – this is a good gateway to a lot of good ol’ sludgy, Southern rock.