For more than 20 years, the shorthand description of Ron Block has been "Alison Krauss' banjo player", but as his stage and recorded work has amply demonstrated over the years, he's also plays a mean guitar. His new solo release, "Walking Song," amply demonstrates that on cuts like Ivy, where he overdubs himself to striking effect. And in fact, Block performs all the guitar parts in addition to banjo on a 14-track excursion that covers a lot of musical ground and moods, from the Celtic-tinged The Fields of Aidlewinn to the straight-ahead bluegrass of Nickel Tree Line.
In addition to his colleagues in Krauss' band, Union Station (Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Barry Bales and, yes, Alison), Block recruited a similarly varied and accomplished backup cast that includes Sam Bush, Rob Ickes, Sierra Hull, Suzanne Cox, Mike Compton and, from across the Pond, singer Kate Rusby. In a departure from his previous solo efforts, Block wrote the music, but all lyrics on the album were written by Rebecca Reynolds in a collaboration that Block credits with helping him get through a "creative block" of the past few years. Reynolds proves herself adept at creating evocative imagery, and Block's melodies do justice to that imagery.
Block's previous releases "Faraway Land" and "Doorway" (both also on Rounder) were heavily influenced by his Christian philosophy, but "Walking Song" is clearly aimed at a wider audience for whom intelligently crafted and performed music doesn't require a theological basis. Judging from the title, "Walking Song" sounds like it's about what sort of pleasant thoughts and images might come to mind while strolling through the woods, and that's pretty much exactly what it is.