Greg Blake is blessed with a powerful voice and a smart ear for country and bluegrass music. "Songs of Heart and Home" is an ambitious project in which he displays these talents to great effect.
Foremost, Mr. Blake has collected a startlingly stout roster of side persons. With that rich collection of musicians, he has recorded and reinterpreted some wonderful songs. "Songs of Heart and Home" launches with Carter Stanley's "Sweetest Love," first recorded over 60 years ago. With John Reischman's clever mandolin licks, "Sweetest Love" sounds fresh today. Albert Brumley's "Dreaming of A Little Cabin" sustains, thanks to Blake's vocal duet with Claire Lynch. Brumley was a gospel savant, but Blake follows that with a secular standard, Johnny Cash's "Hey Porter." Lynch joins with Blake on another spiritual tune, "Turn Your Heart Toward Home," written by Steve and Annie Chapman, which completes the CD.
"Songs of Heart and Home" doesn't rest easy in a single groove, and that's its charm. Bill Monroe is well-represented in "Thinking About You," a hard-driving instrumental. As is Ian Tyson, with Blake singing the standout "Summer Wages" with strength and feeling. Blake's take on the Bill Staines number "Where I Live" hits its mark as well as any on the record.
Blake's voice is strong, calling to mind Don Willams or Merle Haggard. In addition to Lynch, the estimable Laurie Lewis joins on one of her songs, "The Hills of My Home." Blake's guitar picking is good, if sometimes breathless, and he has got some fine collaborators here: Mark Schatz on bass, Reischman on mando, Sally Van Meter on Dobro, the nimble Blaine Sprouse on fiddle and Jeff Scroggins on banjo. That's a sweet house band.
Blake's sole songwriting credit (shared with Lyla Carder) is a road song "50 Miles From Nowhere," which captures the nomadic urges (or fate, depending on how you look at it) of musicians. The title cut, written by Connie Gately and John Talley in 1961, and later adapted by in the '70's by the Grisman/Garcia/Clements project Old and In The Way, reflects admirably on the original material.
Start to finish, "Songs of Heart and Home," offers solid, respectful interpretations of a range of acoustic and bluegrass music. Blake's voice is the singular thread that ties the work together. It's a firm bond that seals the deal.