When German guitarist Werner Lämmerhirt released Ten Thousand Miles in 1974, that LP was, in more ways than one, a harbinger of things to come. Along with being Lämmerhirt’s debut album, it was the opening salvo from Stockfisch, a German label launched by Günter Pauler, who continues to act as producer and engineer. Ten Thousand Miles also helped set a template: Like Lämmerhirt, many of the musicians who recorded for Stockfisch lived in Europe, and like so many of his future labelmates Lämmerhirt was a folk musician who played acoustic fingerstyle guitar.
Quickly Stockfisch became recognized as an important label that offered fans of folk, blues, and traditional music an opportunity to hear emerging and well-known artists. As many TAS readers know, it’s also an audiophile outfit whose motto, “Closer to the Music,” accurately characterizes recordings that stand out for their clarity, intimacy, and natural sound. Since Stockfisch emerged in 1974, some audiophile record companies have come and gone. Fortunately, new labels keep popping up, but you have to respect a record company that, since its first album was released 45 years ago, has produced a steady stream of audiophile releases in a timeless musical genre.
A condensed overview of early Stockfisch names would include German fingerstyle guitarists Klaus Weiland and David Qualey. Two folk groups from Germany, Elster Silberflug and Fiedel Michel, also played a significant role in the early days. Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Chris Jones had 20 years of recordings behind him prior to 2003’s Roadhouses & Automobiles, one of the most well-known Stockfisch releases. Folk and blues singer/guitarist Sara K. had already put out several albums for Chesky before connecting with Stockfisch; no wonder she’s been referred to as the “Queen of Audiophile.”
One of Stockfisch’s most well-known artists, Allan Taylor, was already a popular folk musician by the time 1996’s Looking for You began his association with the label. Kerstin Blodig, Christian Kjellvander, Carrie Newcomer, and David Roth have recent titles on Stockfisch. Noteworthy new contributors include Ranagri, a band that, since 2014, has released three albums. The company’s discography now includes about 250 titles.
Like other audiophile labels, Stockfisch focused exclusively on vinyl in the 70s and 80s. The first compact disc was released in 1990, and hybrid SACDs and multichannel SACDs followed. After an uptick in interest, vinyl records were reintroduced, and 25 titles are now available on wax, including albums that were previously CD-only. Some LPs are 45rpm, and some employ direct metal mastering. When a record company releases 250 albums, one might reasonably wonder how many titles are currently in print. “We try to keep all early albums available,” recording assistant Inés Breuer explained in an email, “and if there is no chance to order an adequate number of vinyl or CDs any more, we will make them available as a download.”
Classic Stockfisch Titles
Dig deep into Stockfisch’s catalog and you’ll find a broad range of styles, with everything from Chinese poetry set to music (Song Zuying’s Epics of Love) to the melodic jazz stylings of the Sebastian Sternal Trio (Paris). Rather than explore the full scope of the Stockfisch catalog, I’ll focus here on the folk tradition that has represented the core of the label since the beginning. Think of these recommendations as a few essential titles; from there you can explore the range of music Stockfisch offers.
Chris Jones: Roadhouses & Automobiles. 2003. Available as LP/CD/Download.
Sometimes an album appears that’s so solid musically and sonically you’d be hard-pressed to find a flaw in it, and Roadhouses & Automobiles fits that description. As a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Chris Jones is in fine form here. The recording is state of the art, and the arrangements do an excellent job of enhancing the performances. Jones’ guitar and voice take center stage while additional instruments weave their way into the soundscape subtly and effectively. Jones’ nimble fingerstyle guitar is on display throughout the album, and his delicate and cleanly-executed phrasing—not to mention a lovely melody—make the instrumental “Jolanda’s Wedding March” a standout cut. Roadhouses & Automobiles has been a favorite at audio shows, and it is on the TAS Super LP list.
Sara K. and Chris Jones: Live in Concert: Are We There Yet?. 2003. Available as LP/CD/Download.
An American guitarist and singer-songwriter, Sara K. cut a half-dozen records for Chesky before pairing up with Stockfisch, where seven albums ensued. Her pairing with Chris Jones made perfect sense: both share a raw and gutsy side, and this album pairs a soulful performance with vibrant sound. Günter Pauler recorded 25 concerts during the Sara K./Chris Jones 2002 tour, and the June 15, 2002 performance in Erlangen, Germany was apparently the show where all the pistons were firing. There are no overdubs on Live in Concert, and it truly has a “live” feel.
Allan Taylor: All Is One. 2013. Available as LP/SACD/Download.
In an interview with The Living Tradition, Allan Taylor did an excellent job of describing what makes All Is One such a memorable album. “Because Stockfisch Records are so good at capturing an aural environment,” Taylor said, “I knew they were the ideal company to create the sound I had in my head, a kind of wide-open landscape with lots of space between the sounds. There’s a difference between space and emptiness: it’s possible to have a very spare or sparse sound—very few instruments—and yet the final record can still sound full. That’s precisely what I was aiming for when I started making the record.” At times the highly reflective All is One almost feels confessional; clearly Taylor, in his late 60s at the time the record was recorded, felt a mixture of regret and nostalgia. There’s a deep, rich gravitas to Taylor’s voice. He comes across as a romantic and a realist who, though far from naïve, still has hope. “When our time is come around / And all is passed and gone / Let us hope that we can say we stood as one,” he sings on “We Stood as One.” Those words have not lost meaning since 2013.
Andreas Rohde: Resonance. Reissued as SACD in 2016. Available as SACD/Download.
Along with releasing newly-recorded music, Stockfisch has reissued out-of-print analog titles as part of their Analog Pearls series. This recording by Andreas Rohde was recorded onto a 2-inch 16-track tape and originally released in 1983. In these performances you’ll hear the influence of Leo Kottke, a guitarist Rohde openly admired. Playing a 12-string Gibson B-25 and a Guild F 212C, Rohde is a tasteful and nuanced player, but his overdubbed lead lines can also sting. The highlight of the album may be the title track, a haunting piece of music that becomes more mesmerizing each time the melody is repeated; for fun, there’s a clever rendition of “The Third Man Theme.” Resonance was recently reissued as a hybrid SACD.
Ranagri: Playing for Luck. 2018. Available as SACD/LP/Download.
Four Irish and British multi-instrumentalists make up Ranagri, whose intricate arrangements benefit from Eliza Marshall’s contributions on flute and Eleanor Turner’s electric harp. Lead singer Dónal Rogers is the primary songwriter on the album. While Ranagri’s musical influences date back centuries, Rogers’ words don’t skirt the here and now—and, in fact, the Brexit-based “The Medication Show” explores the dangers of romanticizing the past. There’s a dark tinge to Ranagri’s music and lyrics that, along with a rich blend of acoustic instruments, makes for an engaging listen. “The contemporary-folk group Ranagri enchants while living up to the promise of the SACD stereo format,” Greg Cahill wrote of Playing for Luck in Issue 294, “putting the listener virtually in the studio with a chilling level of intimacy.” Sounds like Stockfisch is still bringing listeners closer to the music while Ranagri, following in the footsteps of Elster Silberflug and Fiedel Michel, adds to Stockfisch’s rich legacy of folk groups. Volumes 3 and 4 of the Analog Pearls series arrived in the mail today, signifying that, while a lot has happened since Ten Thousand Miles was released, Stockfisch’s story will continue to unfold.