Old Ties – Norman Blake
Rounder Heritage Series 1166-11583-2
Johnny Cash. Joan Baez. Bob Dylan. Heard enough? Try John Hartford, Tony
Rice, and Doc Watson. Norman Blake has performed alongside each of these
musicians, using many instruments and subsequently has been defined as a
"sideman" in the acoustic music genre. Of course, last year we saw the
of O Brother Where Art Thou? and the acoustic, roots and bluegrass
went through a massive resurgence in popularity.
Every artist on the now legendary soundtrack is cashing (excuse the pun) in
on the wave of acoustic music appreciation because it won't be too many
before the music slips back into the obscurity of folkies' collections. Part
of the flood is the new record by Blake entitled Old Ties which is
more than a compilation of old tunes by the maestro with the voice of gold.
From our standpoint as music snobs, we see past the record companies'
to shove these products on the public, but one listen to many of these
involves a tremendous reward to long time listeners and newbies alike.
Blake is an important color in the tapestry of the bluegrass fabric. His
picking is clean and subtle and his voice has a grandfatherly feel that is
welcoming and warm it is hard not to smile. Blake's tunes rarely cruise past
moderate tempo which allows the music to feel energetic without being
The best part of Blake's music is that it has an easy-going flow about it
the tunes on Old Ties were obviously chosen to represent his carefree
toward life and picking.
The version of "Ginseng Sullivan" is delivered with such simplicity it
a striking contrast to the newly electrified versions of the classic.
is played with just Blake and Tut Taylor on the dobro. Old Ties
masterful version of "Fiddler's Dream/Whiskey Before Breakfast", which is a
fantastic homage to the English/Irish/Scotch fiddle tunes that came across
sea to clear the path for our traditional music base.
The most impressive tune on the record is the first track, "Spanish
Fandango". Remarkably, Blake is rarely given credit as a masterful
The tune involves some subtle picking in a wandering and trance-like melody.
Of course, any dispute about his chops can be taken up with Doc Watson and
Tony Rice, who play in a trio with Blake on "Lost Indian". It is a
tour-de-force that never goes up for air. If you listen closely you can hear
Doc mumble a classic command to Norman to "take one", suggesting that he
better start picking before the whole house of notes fell to the ground.
For the Blake fans out there, you may have a whole stack of records that are
high recommendations but for the person who is just finding their way
the endless archives of acoustic music, Old Ties will be right for
you. It is a
perfect sampling of a musician whose work is very understated. Of course,
is one of the reasons it sounds so damn good.