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Norman Blake

Wood, Wire & Words – 2015 (Plectrafone/Western Jubilee)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Norman Blake

Norman Blake is a premier artist in the world of acoustic, folk, roots, Americana, bluegrass and country music. While multi-genre, he has enjoyed over four decades of association with bluegrass and country. He toured with June Carter and worked with Johnny Cash. He's toured with Kris Kristofferson and recorded with Bob Dylan. He teamed with Tut Taylor, John Hartford and Vassar Clements to record "Aereo Plain." He's worked with Tony Rice and penned "Ginseng Sullivan," which Rice and others recorded.

This new CD has the classic sounds of his guitar - the only instrument on the CD - and songs that are generally reflective, introspective. He plays a 2004 Martin 000-28B on two tracks and a 1928 Martin 00-45 on the others. "There's a One Way Road To Glory" is a gospel number with anti-war sentiments that was co-written with wife Nancy, who joins Blake on the song. Blake wrote and performed everything else.

There's a mixture of instrumentals and vocals. "Blake's Rag" has some signature Blake intricacies in the chord progression and features finger picking reminiscent of Chet Atkins. "Chattanooga Rag" and "Savannah Rag" are similar to this style, while "Cloverdale Plantation March" gives the feel of a patriotic march. You can pick out note combinations and runs that tickle your brain with associations to tunes dating back to the Civil War. It has pull-offs and hammer-ons that will leave guitarists admiring it and cursing it when they try to copy his style, while all the numbers will confound accompanists trying to remember the chord patterns.

Blake, 76, will never be a great ballad singer, but his dry, unadorned voice is perfect for the songs that look back to a different life and time. "The Keeper of the Government Light On the River" is taken from a true story of the man who held the job while "Grady Forester's Store and Cotton Gin" is drawn from his youth in Sulphur Springs, Ga. These songs won't play on popular radio, probably won't be heard at campfire jams because they take some dedication and practice to get them right. This CD is a treasure.