CD review: Norman Blake & John Renbourn

With this new year starting, I was glad to see new records by two of my favourite musicians, Norman Blake and John Renbourn. One is american and the other is english, the two are masters of the acoustic guitar but represent two very different folk traditions. They both have been playing and recordings music for decades now and became each one in his own way two masters of their delicate craft, two wise old men of the Western world. Despit their different style and approch to music, what make them connected to me as a listener is their total integrity and modesty. In a music world full of gimmicks, looks and dullness, they just follow their own quiet path and continue to explore  and play the music they love best.

Norman Blake was raised in Sulphur Springs, Georgia, started as a back-up musician for people like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, became famous in the 1970’s for his flatpicking guitar abilities and started recorded both solo and with his wife and musical partner Nancy Blake. On his records, he plays also many other string instruments (most notably mandolin, Dobro and fiddle) and sings songs he has written or songs from the Bluegrass/Old-time tradition. On his early records, one could find also great flatpicked fiddle tunes and songs he wrote that became standards like “Ginseng Sullivan”, “Church Street Blues”, or “Last train from Poor Valley”. In the 1980’s, he made great collaborations with another great flatpicker Tony Rice and explored the possibilities of a modern string band with The Rising Fawn String Ensemble. From the beginning of the 1990’s and ever since he continued to play both with his wife Nancy and with other musicians, revisiting old songs from the “hillbilly” 78rpm records he loves, traditional folk songs and melodies in a more and more epurated style, letting others trying to be the fastest flatpickers in the world, while he concentrates on the songs or tune’s own internal beauty and poetry. And with this new album, “Green Light on the Southern”, he’s doing just that, play and sing the old songs he loves, from The Carter Family, Charlie Poole, etc…just like he certainly plays them on the porch of his farm in Sulphur Springs, out of pure love and dedication to Southern folk music.

-Listen to three tracks from his new album:

“Green Light on the Southern”

“He Rambled”

“The New Spanish Two-Step”

“I’ve seen the rural music I’ve loved since childhood grow fainter and farther away in a commercial and urban- ized society that seems to care little for the charms of old fashioned southern string music and its long gone practi- tioners… Here are some of the old songs I play and sing around home, one can live by the sentiment and poetry found in many of them.” – Norman Blake

John Renbourn is one of the most important and influential British fingerstyle player of this last decades. Since the 1960’s he has played and recorded both solo, and most notably with Bert Jansh, The Pentangle and with The John Renbourn Group. From the beginning he has mixed diverse musical worlds in his playing like Country Blues, Early Music, Folk, Jazz, and created exquisite  pieces of music. In his new disc, one can feel the ghosts of Erik Satie, Jelly Roll Morton, Bach, Big Bill Broonzy, Randy Weston and Fats Domino, all present in his beautifully crafted guitar solos (and with some clarinet too on some tracks).

-Listen to three tracks from his new album:

“Palermo Snow”

“Ugly James”

“Blueberry Hill”


Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 11:13 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Great review – Norman’s one of my all time favorites – will have to get this one!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: