Greg Blake Songs of Heart and Home www.GregBlakeMusic.com
When the acoustic roots world lost Doc Watson in 2012, we lost a bridge to the past. Through Doc Watson, if we were listening, we could travel through the hills of time to the post-Civil War era and a time when mountain traditions and lifestyle was much more than an affection. Through his family history, Watson could take us to Tom Dula and generations shaped by Child ballads before they were collected and such-identified.
Similar thoughts entered me wee noggin as I listened to this exceptional album from Greg Blake, a flat-picker with whom I was previously unfamiliar, although I had unknowingly heard him with Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. To steal a phrase, there are ancient tones living in these songs.
One imagines that each of the songs contained on Songs of Heart and Home mean something to Blake. Whether they were important to his musical development in West Virginia isn’t explicitly stated in the notes, but one makes that guess, and therefore allows latitude to the inclusion of some songs that have been (too) frequently recorded.
Laurie Lewis duets with Blake on her “The Hills of Home,” and this is the first track that truly reveals Blake as an artist. The performance captures the ‘heart and home’ of the title, and brings the album’s theme not only to the fore, but to vitality. Bill Monroe (“Thinking About You,”) Bill Staines (“Where I Live”) and Ian Tyson (“Summer Wages”) are visited, as are numerous other ‘home’ songs including the album’s finest performance, the lively “Home Is Where The Heart Is.”
The album is mostly bluegrass in spirit and execution, with a bit of meandering into conventional (although not modern) country territory. The fiddling of Blaine Sprouse and John Reischman’s mandolin contributions are personal listening highlights. The album is most definitely a showcase for Blake, and he demonstrates that he is an excellent picker and capable vocalist. Scroggins takes care of the 5-string, Mark Schatz the URB and clawhammer-style banjo playing, while Sally Van Meter is the featured Dobro player.
Claire Lynch appears vocally on three tracks, and is nicely featured bringing her all to the songs including a gentle rendition of “Dreaming of a Little Cabin,” and Jeff Brown adds guitar to four tracks. “Dreaming of a Little Cabin” is highlighted by deft-Reischman notes that make me yearn for a new Jaybirds recording!
On the negative side, the inclusion of two Johnny Cash songs near the start of any album is, I believe, a mistake. “Hey Porter” and “I Still Miss Someone” are among the most overdone of Cash classics, and while the versions included herein are pleasant, they are little more.
Blake contributes one original, “50 Miles from Nowhere,” and one wonders with a number of this quality in his back pocket why additional songs from his pen were not included.
Songs of Heart and Home is an album that many will miss completely or overlook through carelessness. It isn’t going to change the bluegrass and acoustic worlds, but it just might positively impact your day. It’s a good one.
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