Almost two years ago, singer/guitarist/songwriter Erik Neilson founded Lorem Ipsum Recordings, a record label designed to promote music being made in Portland and beyond. Neilson assembled an impressive roster right from the start, and also came up with a brilliant way to market the artists and the label: artist sampler compilation albums, released quarterly and made available for free online.

Volume 3, the latest edition of the “From Lorem, With Love” series, is an intriguing snapshot of an evolving collective, and is easily the most diverse offering to date released under the Lorem Ipsum banner.

Appropriately, Neilson’s own band, Rural Ghosts, provides the opening track. This band has come a long way from its lo-fi one-man-band beginnings. It’s now a full-on, four-piece indie rock band, and the beefed-up sound adds weight and heft to the lyrics.

“Worried Man” is an up-tempo country blues number, but the ominous sound of Devon Colella’s cello and Neilson’s trademark emotional singing style provide just the right menacing tone and a sense of impending doom that’s as compelling as it is chilling.

It’s a great way to open the compilation, and this particular track is a good example of what Lorem Ipsum is all about: independent artists who are, for the most part, working in fairly traditional styles, but all of whom add their unique touches that help elevate the songs to a level that transcends any one genre.

“Everything I Need” from Brett & Lena is a pleasant surprise. On the last “From Lorem” comp, they opted for a rootsy, country folk sound. This time around, their gorgeously blended voices are drenched in reverb, and the musical accompaniment is more indie-rock than rural, giving this track a modern yet charmingly retro sound.

The Muckie Mittens’ song is perhaps the most radio-friendly track, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Like a subdued Drive By Truckers or a slightly raunchier Tom Petty, “Scattered Sparrow” has enough crunchy guitar to satisfy the rockers, while female backing vocals and a touch of fiddle and slide guitar keep the country purists happy. Plus, it’s got a laid-back groove that would sound great coming out of a set of car speakers while cruising down some back road.

Erik Neilson offers up a solo track as well, but like his recent work with Rural Ghosts, “Loaded Again” features a fuller, more lush arrangement than his previous solo work. The emotionally frank lyrics, however, remain in tact, and the themes of regret and loss are driven home by an achingly honest and emotionally raw vocal. Riveting stuff.

Two of the album’s standout tracks are labeled as “demos.” And yes, the production on Young Readers’ “Avalanche” and Starlight Cicada’s “Spooky Song” is sparse, and that’s exactly how it should be! There’s a sense of intimacy in these recordings that a slick, polished production job would totally squash, or at the very least, water down. So a note to Young Readers and Starlight Cicada: Leave these songs be, they’re perfect just the way they are.

The rambling monologue at the beginning of the live track from Ed Askew is a little jarring, as sequenced immediately after the gripping Starlight Cicada track. Still, “The Garden” is a fun and quirky romp, and it’s another great addition to the increasingly diverse Lorem Ipsum library.

For Morning’s “Lorena Bobbitt” mines similarly quirky territory, but it’s repetitive hooks are addictive in their own catchy way. This is the one track you’ll still be humming after you’ve finished listening to the whole album.

The compilation climaxes with a stunning acoustic guitar piece from Oliver Waterman, a sobering coda to a wild ride that makes the perfect album closer.

These days, Waterman also is a member of Rural Ghosts, so it’s fitting that his and the Rural Ghosts’ tracks are the bookends for the record. With playing this fluid and this beautiful, no vocals are needed.

With the release of Volume 3, this edition is a coming out party.

Lorem Ipsum Recordings is acknowledging where it has been, but also declaring boldly and loudly that this is where it has arrived. And where it’s headed, perhaps even the artists themselves don’t know.

Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host who lives in Westbrook. He can be reached at:[email protected]


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