Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Western Jubilee Recording Company acquired by Smithsonian Folkways

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 1:00 AM

click to enlarge Western Jubilee founder Scott O’Malley, left, with cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.
  • Western Jubilee founder Scott O’Malley, left, with cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.

One great legacy deserves another, and Smithsonian Folkways’ newly announced acquisition of Colorado Springs’ Western Jubilee Recording Company underscores that point. Both labels have a long and storied history of preserving and expanding upon musical traditions that might otherwise be lost to history.

For the past 25 years, Cowboy-Western music devotee Scott O’Malley has run Western Jubilee out of a former railroad warehouse in downtown Colorado Springs. During that time, the label has released some 75 albums by a prestigious roster that includes acoustic bluegrass legend Norman Blake, yodeling Country-Western balladeer Don Edwards, singer-songwriter Katy Moffatt, and cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.

“I can’t think of a better home for our artists,” enthuses Dave Olsen, who has managed Western Jubilee for the past nine years. “I’ve been hearing the word ‘perpetuity’ mentioned throughout the three-year process the acquisition has taken. And the idea that the music and poetry will live on, and be made available to the public long after we’re all gone, well, that is perfect.”

Western Jubilee’s new parent label boasts an enduring legacy that dates back to 1948, when producer Moses Asch launched a nonprofit label in order to document and preserve what he referred to as “people’s music.” Over the course of the next four decades, he would put out more than 2,000 records, ranging from cantorial synagogue music to Angola prison work songs. Other historic releases included an album of readings by pioneering African American poet Margaret Walker, early recordings by Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, and sprawling heritage collections like ethnomusicologist Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.

After Asch passed on in 1986, his family donated the entire Folkways catalog to the Smithsonian, which has continued to build upon that legacy. In the last month alone, the label has released a new album by Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei, a collection of bilingual children’s music by José-Luis Orozco, vinyl reissues of three experimental electronic albums, and a collection of previously unreleased music by Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton that was privately recorded back in 1946.

Smithsonian Folkways marketing manager Jonathan Williger echoes Olsen’s view that the two labels are a perfect pairing.

“When we look at bringing new labels into the Smithsonian Folkways family, we always ask how it will complement our already extensive catalog,” he explains. “Western Jubilee’s incredible catalog of cowboy music epitomizes a certain vision of the American experience that we felt would be a valuable addition to our collection and would also be well loved by our fans.”

Currently, the full catalog of Western Jubilee albums, most of which had long been out of print, are available in all digital formats on the Folkways website. The label has also released a 20-song compilation called Take Me Back to the Range: Selections from Western Jubilee Recording Company.

So what happens next? “In August,” says Williger, “we’ll be releasing a new album by Norman Blake through Western Jubilee and its old-time offshoot Plectrafone Records. We’re very excited and we’ll be sharing more details on that in the coming months.”

In other good news, O’Malley’s railroad-side studio will go back to hosting concerts for live recordings, as well as holding vintage collectible sales, once it’s safe to do so. We can also expect at least a few Western Jubilee releases to start showing up on vinyl. After all, Folkways is the label that made its debut with Drums of Haiti, a collection of field recordings that were pressed onto four 10-inch shellac discs.

“Scott says that Smithsonian Folkways Recordings are famous for their love of vinyl, so I’m hoping it’ll happen,” says Olsen. “I would get a solid sense of joy holding Western Jubilee and Plectrafone LPs in my hands. Everyone knows yodeling sounds so much warmer on vinyl.”

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