By Bruce Sylvester
An omnivore can loosely be defined as someone who’s happy to eat any and every kind of food (“omni” being Latin for “all,” and “vore” connoting eating).
So it should come as no surprise that Omnivore Recordings’ reissue catalog lives up to its name with a colorful selection of works by a diverse pool of artists, including Buck Owens, The Waitresses, Wanda Jackson, Ernie Kovacs, Jellyfish, Camper van Beethoven and Leon Russell.
“We named the company Omnivore, because we like everything,” says Cheryl Pawelski, who co-founded the Los Angeles-based label in 2010, along with industry veterans Greg Allen, Dutch Cramblitt and Brad Rosenberger. “And we love learning about and finding new things. We’re basically insatiable when it comes to music, and we’re of the belief that the more you know about music, the less you know. One discovery leads to another, so to be anything but an Omnivore is really doing a disservice to yourself if you love music as we do.”
Obscurities abound. Guitar maestro Bert Jansch’s “Heartbreak” gets expanded with a live second CD. Original Byrd Gene Clark (“the Byrd who wouldn’t fly,” the first to leave the band) is represented with “Here Tonight: The White Light Demos” preceding his debut solo LP. For fans who feel iconic Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt’s initial LPs were sometimes over-produced, the two-CD “Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos 1971-1972” includes an alternate “Pancho & Lefty” mix without strings and horns. Omnivore is also reissuing some of his early albums in their entirety. (Yes, parallels with Rykodisc in its indie days are clear.)
There are advantages to being a small label that doesn’t need huge sales volumes to keep going.
“We’ve released everything from digital-only projects, to orginal 1970s coloring books with flexis, to very pretty 180-gram vinyl, to standard CDs. They’re all very different cost and sales-wise,” Pawelski adds. “We have the flexibility and agency to work with the artists we WANT to work with, so it’s easy to say no to things we don’t want to do. We would never take on a project that we couldn’t do really well. We’re firm believers that you’re only as good as what you suck the most at, and, to quote Tim Hardin, ‘Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.’ So while nothing is really off the table — remember, we’re omnivores — we have to feel confident that we can do it great, and if we can’t, then we don’t.”
Being distributed by EMI/Capitol has helped with access to the conglomerate’s back catalog. Like a baby Bear Family Records with sessionographies accompanying well-informed (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) liner notes, Omnivore offers completist country fans George Jones’ 32-song “The Complete United Artists Solo Singles” and creamy-smooth young crooner Merle Haggard’s 28-track “The Complete ’60s Capitol Singles.” Rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson’s 29-cut “The Best Of The Classic Capitol Singles” has 1956’s first-ever recording of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” with lines The Springfields later pruned, helping their 1962 single chart.
The label has an in for creating its full-on packages.
“Artists, producers, estates, managers, attorneys, etc., are frequently our friends, and we work closely with them, so we get their feedback, input and contributions from a project’s inception. One of the things that makes our releases so special is the involvement of the originators of the music,” Pawelski says. “Richard Thompson, Martha Davis and Marty Jourard (The Motels), Jody Stephens and John Fry (Big Star), Old 97’s, Spain, the Buck Owens estate (run by Buckaroo Jim Shaw) and even Laurie Pepper (Art Pepper’s widow) have contributed everything from liner notes, to photos and ephemera, to master tapes, to original test pressings — whatever was needed. There’s a trust level that allows for collaboration. Folks know that we’re going to produce the most creative, quality representation of their work that we can. It’s good for them, and it’s good for the fans. We just come in, do our job and then get out of the way. The noteworthy feedback comes from the fans, is usually super-positive and is usually very colorful, which we like. Omnivores attract omnivores.”
The label strives to stun — and occasionally freak out — fans by offering up items they didn’t know existed or felt would never get their due in the reissue market.
“We really like surprising people because we like being surprised,” she says. “It’s thrilling to be able to share something with people who value it like you do.” GM