Lebanon, Tennessee, USA – Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has announced the creation of a new independent recording label and the release of its first sixteen compact disc recordings. The label, CB music, Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cracker Barrel, and is devoted to an array of traditional music.
“Tradition and quality are important to our customers and to us,” said Debra K. Kidwell, Vice President of Merchandising for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. “We see our music company as another way to offer our customers a taste of what is good in America.”The first 16 CB Music recordings show that Cracker Barrel’s definition of tradition is far ranging. They offer a new recording of the oldest jazz band in New Orleans; American Indian flute music, classic country, rockabilly, Piedmont blues, western swing, bluegrass, Irish ballads and ceili (Irish dance) music, a Mexican music sampler, and several forms of gospel.
Most of the recordings are new and some of the artists are well known. “We thought it would be good to share Asleep At The Wheel with our customers,” said Julie Davis, manager of the new label, of the Austin-based band. “They’ve been playing western swing longer than Bob Wills did, and they are truly wonderful.”
Davis said that among Cracker Barrel objectives in creating the label was to give better distribution to some important recordings that most of the nation has not heard.”We have 480 stores, and that is more distribution than many labels have. Moreover, our outlets are expanding while traditional music marketing is under great pressure. Our web site is very active, and customers can hear samples of our music when they check out our weekly menu changes.”
As an example of a band that deserves more attention, Davis pointed to a CB Music recording of the original Seldom Scene, a Washington, DC bluegrass band. “Everyone knows that Bill Monroe gave bluegrass to the south, and that southern migrants helped carry it north and west. But the band that brought bluegrass to the urban part of the nation was this one, the greatest of the garage bands.
“Their lead singer and guitarist was a surgeon, the banjoist was a research mathematician, the bassist was a cartographer, the mandolin player was an instrument-maker, and their Dobro guitarist was a nationally respected graphic designer. They could not tour, so most of the nation didn’t hear them. Yet their fans and followers changed this music forever, and we feel our customers will love the beautiful recordings they made in their heyday.”
Three discs are of gospel music of very different styles. Masters of the Steel Guitar is a church-rocking showcase of African-American steel guitar church music and spirited singing, praise music with a Pentecostal feel developed during the past fifty years. The Birmingham Sunlights provide an older a cappella black quartet music with soaring harmonies and a heart-felt presentation. The markedly different Stony Point Quartet offers an Appalachian gospel sound, a four-part harmony singing of rural church shape-note standards with mandolin, guitar, and bass.
Davis said another band that deserves more attention is the Cajun band, the Balfa Brothers. “They are the band that first brought Cajun music and food to the attention of the nation. Like the Seldom Scene, they never became full-time musicians, yet they created today’s Cajun scene. We found a gorgeous tape of them in a live concert; it is so good it almost makes you smell gumbo.”
A new recording of Native American northern plains flute music by Robert “Tree” Cody did well in Cracker Barrel’s test marketing. “That music is older than our nation,” Davis said. “It is so wonderfully peaceful and quiet that you can almost feel the mystery of distance and time.”
But Davis emphasizes that the new label is also recording talented new artists. “We’re so proud of our recordings of Linda Lay and the Springfield Exit band. Some of this music has a classic country sound, but it is also an acoustic sound that reaches beyond classification. Whatever you call it, it is a great new creation that draws upon tradition.”
The National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) assisted Cracker Barrel in this effort. The Council has been recording, documenting, and presenting American music since 1933. Joe Wilson, Director of the NCTA for the last 27 years, helped conceive and manage this effort. Over the years, he’s produced more than a hundred full-length discs of traditional music.
“This is a bit unusual,” Wilson said. “Cracker Barrel has vertical integration. It records, manufactures, distributes, and retails these recordings. I can’t think of anyone else doing that. They asked me for music like the food, traditional and with variety and high quality, the real deal. So we’ve tried very hard to produce music that is as good and grounded as chicken n’ dumplins“.
The Heritage Music Collection also strengthens Cracker Barrel’s relationship with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). For the last two years, Cracker Barrel has sponsored the Heritage Fellowship Awards. These awards are the highest honor a traditional artist can receive from the federal government. Since 1982, the Endowment has awarded more than 260 National Heritage Fellowships, and noted honorees such as bluesman John Cephas, Mexican-American musician José Gutiérrez, and Cajun bandleader Dewey Balfa are featured in the Cracker Barrel Heritage Music Collection.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of the publicly held CBRL Group, Inc. Cracker Barrel was established in 1969 in Lebanon, Tennessee. Each Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is modeled after a 1900-era country store, featuring old photographs, antiques, memorabilia, and a real woodburning fireplace with a stone hearth to add a warm cozy touch to the dining room.
The restaurant serves up hearty meals of such comfort foods as meatloaf and homemade chicken n’ dumplins, and the biscuits are made from scratch using an old family recipe. The retail store has more than 2,700 gift items including accessories for the home, old-fashioned candies, books on audio, nostalgic items, and children’s games and puzzles.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. operates more than 480 company-owned locations in 41 states. Every Cracker Barrel location is open seven days a week with hours Sunday through Thursday, 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 6 a.m. – 11 p.m.