Chicago's Bloodshot Records—the self-described "home of insurgent country"—began in 1994 with a compilation called For A Life Of Sin, which chronicled Chicago's budding alt-country scene. The genre's parameters weren't really defined, but Bloodshot operated under the premise that "stark mountain ballads can sound as dangerous as full on rock assaults," according to the liner notes.
The two discs comprising For A Decade Of Sin revel in those ill-defined stylistic boundaries. The 42 songs—some previously released, others not—come from Bloodshot's family (Waco Brothers, Kelly Hogan, et. al), friends (My Morning Jacket, Crooked Fingers), and heroes (Ralph Stanley, John Doe). Notably missing are some of the label's most recognizable contributors: Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and Robbie Fulks (though Old 97's does cover Fulks' "I'd Be Lonesome"). Speaking of covers, they account for roughly a third of the songs and some of the compilation's least essential listening (i.e., The Yayhoos' version of The O'Jays' "Love Train").
For A Decade Of Sin never feels labored, though; its weaker moments are generally brief and followed by stronger material, and Bloodshot seems comfortable with its shortcomings: "Like our legacy, this compilation could be looked upon as a glorious, sprawling mess." Glorious? That's a stretch. Sprawling? Yup. Mess? Nah. Nothing sounds strikingly inconsistent with Bloodshot's style, even Crooked Fingers' excellent, though wholly twang-free, "Ship To Spain." Most of the songs have twang to spare, and For A Decade Of Sin has plenty of standout tracks. On disc one: Paul Burch and Ralph Stanley's briskly moving tale of a murder-suicide, "Glass Of Wine"; Cordero's haunting, ominous "Close Your House Down"; and The Meat Purveyors' scorching "Little White Pills." On disc two: Nora O'Connor's fiddle-laced "Two Way Action"; Mary Lou Lord's strikingly vulnerable "Cold Company"; The Court And Spark's mournful "Berliners"; and The Starkweathers' blazing, anti-jingoist anthem "Burn The Flag."
If nothing else, For A Decade Of Sin captures a broadly defined, occasionally maligned genre. "From the beginning, this has been, in many ways, a damned enterprise," say the liner notes. "We haven't made it too easy for anyone to get a solid grasp on what we are doing or what to call it—most of the time, we don't even know." As For A Decade Of Sin shows, that's all part of the charm.