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Various Artists

For a Life of Sin was a landmark, and a battle cry, in 1994 when a couple of Doc Martens-booted music fans had experienced their fill of the smarmy, crawling corporate scalawags who'd made off with the record industry: They determined to put out the music they loved on their own damned label. To everyone's leery, beery, teary joy, the label still stands, and according to the characteristically irreverent Decade of Sin liner notes, it's damned as ever.

This impeccably curated, produced and sequenced anniversary tribute takes the same approach as that first release: The label collected new and unreleased tracks from their favorite artists--42 of them this time--regardless of label affiliation, even at the expense of a few in their own stable. The result is a cogent statement of an aesthetic that understands the potential symbiosis between punk and bluegrass; head-banging, three-guitar-assault rock and banjo-wielding solo singer-songwriter pensiveness; Jane's Addiction's spectacular weirdness, the O'Jays' soul stirring, The Soft Boys' savage anger and Ralph Stanley's high lonesome harmonies: It's all about the songs and a delivery that makes you believe every word of them.

The Yahoos turn in a reverent cover of the O'Jays' "Soul Train"; Chicago's Dollar Store covers The Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You," but Stanley delivers the goods himself on his own "Little Glass of Wine" with Paul Burch. Milton Mapes offers a haunting version of the Cowboy Junkies' heart-acher, "Now I Know"; Bobby Bare Jr. reinvents Jane's Addiction's "Ocean Size," and Tucson fans will especially appreciate 16 Horsepower's sinister cover of Rainer's "Derailed." If there's a low point, it's My Morning Jacket's cover of George Harrison's monotonous waltz, "Behind That Locked Door."

Intriguing as they are, the covers are in the minority of this collection that mostly features Bloodshot's favorite original lyric themes: desperation, death, mood-altering substances, consequences and standing up to The Man, mixed with dry humor, gritty endurance and redemption with respect to any of the above.

The emotional impact of Graham Linsey's stark solo banjo ballad "No Way Out but Down" and a rare Sally Timms original, the whispering, desolate "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" (mistakenly credited to Bob Nolan of Sons of the Pioneers), draw some of their weight from their noisier surroundings, book-ended as they are by Nine Pound Hammer's punishing rocker "I'm Your Huckleberry" and Graham Parker and the Figgs' rousing "Harridans of Yore."

The Minus 5, including Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, tear up Jon Langford's "Sputnik 57" with a backing band McCaughey assembled in Croatia. Former Tucsonan Ani Cordero performs her "Close Your House Down" with a loping, propulsive rhythm hook. Conversely, Split Lip Rayfield's "How Many Biscuits Can You Eat" all but shreds its gas-tank bass with a lickity-split pace.

Until the penultimate track, the offerings are mostly apolitical, but the message of the Starkweathers' "Burn the Flag" is impossible to miss: "If you don't love it, change it." Alas, a potential consequence awaits in the set closer, The Waco Brothers' raw and timeless cover of Sonny Curtis' "I Fought the Law."

More by Linda Ray

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