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Spanking new Tucson label nails sonic honesty

Hank Topless and others star on killer Lonesome Desert comp.

Hank Topless and others star on killer Lonesome Desert comp.

Taking a cue from legendary folk musicologist Alan Lomax, a new Tucson record label is dedicated to raw, stripped-down acoustic music.

There's no strict definition for the sound of Lonesome Desert Records, but "real country, low-down blues, old-school soul and Americana" all fit squarely in the label's crosshairs, says Austin Counts, who put together the label to release tunes by local artists he considers musical kin.

"It's people I play with and see around town, who do the acoustic solo or duo kind of acts that tend to be blues or country or honky-tonk," Counts says. "That's underrepresented in Tucson as far as actually being recorded and available to the public to buy."

The label is releasing an introductory compilation, recorded at Midtown Island Studio in a live-performance, no-frills style inspired the field recordings Lomax captured of typically unknown musicians while traveling the country in the 1930s and 1940s.

"It's recorded the way it's supposed to be, with just one mic and a person playing and trying to get the feel of the room and the soul of the performer," Counts says. "I like the honesty of it. It's that real heart and soul that makes music great in my eyes. That's why I pursue it and I try to record it and get it out to other people."

The compilation features two songs from each of five artists: Chris Hall, Counts, Freddy Parish, Tom Walbank and Hank Topless. The album represents some of the most frequently gigging musicians in town, a fact that makes them more than stylistic compadres.

"I appreciate and respect them all," Topless says. "You're getting people who are out there running at it, all the time. I think we're all trying to do our own thing with it. None of us are stuck in the past trying to imitate something. The old style still speaks to us to a degree that we've formed our own styles around it, but I think we all see it as music for now."

After the compilation, the Lonesome Desert agenda include releasing the first full-length album from Topless since 2011, with an EP from Hall also in the works and plans to record Parish in the spring. Counts will look to expand the roster for a second compilation next year.

"I'm definitely trying to expand out and get other people around town and deeper in Southern Arizona and up into Phoenix, trying to keep it very regional," Counts says. "At best, I hope people can discover this. At worst, if I'm just being an Alan Lomax and collecting people who are playing just to document it, I'm still happy."

More by Eric Swedlund

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