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Norman Blake

Old Ties – 2002 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Norman Blake

Though Norman Blake is best known for his session work with such artists as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and most recently the soundtrack for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" this disc gathers some of the best work from his own releases over the past 30 years.

Much of the album consists of instrumental tunes that showcase why Blake is regarded as one of the premier acoustic guitarists of his era. Among the most interesting are "Lost Indian," on which he is joined by fellow virtuosos Tony Rice and Doc Watson and "O'Malley's Tune," a frenetic musical duet with Ben Pedigo on banjo. The influence of Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family is most evident in Blake's vocals in such originals as "Church St. Blues," "Gensing Sullivan" and "Uncle," as well as his rendition of A.P. Carter's "Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room." Other highlights are "Billy Gray," a Blake tune covered by Robert Earl Keen on his 1998 disc "Walking Distance," and his duet with Tony Rice on "Gonna Lay Down My Walking Shoes."

Though the sessions represented here span three decades, the timeless quality of the songs and the instrumental mastery of Norman Blake make for a cohesive collection.