For Northampton’s Cow Island Music record label owner Bill Hunt, creating a roster is a labor of love. “I do things that are interesting to me, where my talents and resources can be beneficial to people I’m working with,” Hunt says.
Because Cow Island is devoted to an old-school honky-tonk aesthetic, Hunt works in niche territory. Though he’s not necessarily running his label in search of riches, the level of exposure and prominence Cow Island enjoys is about to increase. That’s because, through a series of acquaintances and recommendations, Hunt is now releasing the latest effort from the nationally known act Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys.
“They had it pretty much recorded,” says Hunt. “I heard it, and I was like, ‘Yeah!’ I’m a huge Big Sandy fan—I can’t deny that.”
This time around, through the same connections that brought Big Sandy Hunt’s way, Cow Island will get to take advantage of distribution via Sony. “Even though it was just released, the sales [of What A Dream It’s Been] so far look good, and there’s definitely a buzz about it.”
That is in part because the album is a bit of a gift for Big Sandy’s large fanbase to mark the band’s 25th year; it’s a set of re-recorded tunes from earlier Big Sandy releases, complete with some new rhythms and acoustic arrangements.
Hunt says he put together, for comparison, a CD of the original recordings of the tunes, and immediately noticed one major across-the-board change: “It struck me how his voice has really matured beautifully. The vocals sounded, to a song—not that they were bad before—they just sounded better on these recordings.”
And indeed, the laid-back atmosphere that prevails allows for every note to be discerned with impeccable clarity, and provides a comfortable backdrop for Big Sandy’s singing. His voice is at times stunningly close to that of the Sun Studios-era Elvis Presley, but it’s not punctuated with the same low snarl. Instead, he navigates tenor territory with an accomplished ease, his attack carrying the rhythms; phrases often wrap up with a full but never intrusive vibrato. It’s confident and beautifully realized.
If you haven’t heard Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, What A Dream It’s Been is a good starting point, as much a look forward as back. In many ways, it feels like an album from a long time ago, though the clarity of the recording is quite contemporary.
That’s certainly in keeping with Bill Hunt’s goals. The sounds he curates are often anchored in the past, but Hunt is thinking about what comes next for music recording and listening. “Where is the really good music experience these days? It used to be sitting around with your friends with a new album, looking at the artwork and the liner notes,” Hunt says. “Is there any way to recreate that on the computer?”
Though it’s not something he has fully developed yet, he talks energetically about the idea of a listening experience with, perhaps, visual information and historical information, an immersive experience well beyond just piping sounds into a pair of speakers.
With Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Hunt’s Cow Island may get just the boost it needs to start exploring that question.•
For more info, visit www.cowislandmusic.com.