The Reader’s Choice: Numero Group

Chicago is blessed with such a diversity of great labels that this was one of the toughest categories for me to call. I feel a little strange picking the Numero Group, since it doesn’t release new music. Then again, I’d also feel strange picking Drag City again, even though it’s hardly lost a step since I gave it the nod last year. (In fact it’s having a hell of a run, with brilliant reissues from the likes of Death and Nimrod Workman and excellent new albums from Azita, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, David Grubbs, and others.)

The Numero Group’s output has been astonishing from its very first titles in 2004—every release is handsomely packaged, and the music is always placed lovingly into context with well-researched, engaging liner notes and plenty of photos. Each year the label seems to develop new specialties: It began with the Eccentric Soul compilations, which sketch portraits of regional soul scenes with the catalogs of forgotten independent labels, and has since branched out into straight-up album reissues (through its Asterisk imprint), female folk-rock singers from the 70s, and the Cult Cargo series, which unearths soul and funk from elsewhere in the Americas. This past year the label launched the vinyl-only Numerophon imprint, which will focus on rare folk from the U.S. and abroad, and kicked off yet another series, called Local Customs, devoted to music made in the “woodsheds, basements, and living rooms” of out-of-the-way towns. The first entry, Downriver Revival, samples the work of Felton Williams of Ecorse, Michigan—a would-be entrepreneur who recorded his friends and neighbors, overseeing an amazing number of satisfying sessions and producing hundreds of sides in almost total obscurity. On April 4 at the Park West, the Numero Group will present its first live concert, an old-school soul revue headlined by the legendary Syl Johnson and spotlighting artists who recorded, like Johnson, for Chicago’s Twinight label—active from 1967 through ’72 and itself the subject of a superb two-CD Eccentric Soul release, Twinight’s Lunar Rotation. —Peter Margasak

& Our readers’ choice: Bloodshot