Celebrating Independence with… Tompkins Square

In honor of Independence Day, KEXP is saluting some of our favorite indie record labels whose DIY-spirit helped revolutionize the music industry. As an independent radio station ourselves, KEXP is thrilled to give a 13-gun salute to these pioneers with a series of label spotlights through the Fourth of July.

Despite getting his start working at major record labels, Josh Rosenthal has resolutely stuck to his own eclectic, and at times seemingly unmarketable interests, releasing fascinating compilations and re-issues through his label, Tompkins Square. He cites his work in the 80s promoting Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings as a key moment when he realized the potential for reissues and compilations in the modern market, and he’s certainly building on the work of venerable labels like Smithsonian Folkways and Yazoo. Releases on Tompkins Square range from old 78 recordings of obscure Cajun, Creole and Eastern European artists, to new recordings from older masters of the American primitive guitar movement, an excellent series of recordings from the great Charlie Louvin, a collection of vintage songs about national disasters, and new discoveries that he’s helped champion and bring to a national spotlight, like old-time-new-time prophet Frank Fairfield, indie-folk rockers Hiss Golden Messenger, and chicken picker Ben Hall. It’s a dizzying array of artists and a huge testimony to Rosenthal’s taste that he consistently gets great press coverage, no matter how obscure the artist. Many people have come to trust his taste, and to respect the hours he puts in tracking down old musicians and original master recordings for the label. And despite the endless horror stories about the music industry, Tompkins Square is first and foremost focused on releasing physical albums, sometimes going so far as to release the digital version well after the physical release. There’s no telling what the next release from Tompkins Square will bring, but rest assured that it will be surprisingly different!

Key Releases:

  • 2005. Various Artists – Imaginational Anthem (American primitive guitar collection)
  • 2006. Various Artists – Berkeley Guitar
  • 2007. Charlie Louvin – Charlie Louvin (Louvin’s first studio album after ten years)
  • 2007. Various Artists – People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938
  • 2008. Max Ochs – Hooray for Another Day (Phil Ochs’ cousin)
  • 2009. Frank Fairfield – Frank Fairfield (Fairfield’s first album)
  • 2011. Various Artists – This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45rpm, 1957-1982v
  • 2012. Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon
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