Rounder’s Heritage series specializes in new anthologies of previously released work – the musical equivalent of old wine in new bottles.
Norman Blake’s Old Ties features selections that span from 1971 to 1990. Musical collaborators include his wife Nancy, dobro pioneer Tut Taylor, guitar virtuoso Tony Rice, fiddler James Bryan, and a few others. Most of the songs feature small ensembles of two or three players, rather than full bands. Norman Blake’s renditions of songs tend to be introspective miniatures rather than big-scale productions. He likes to simplify songs down to their bare essences, which accounts for why most his performances are such classic and elemental versions. One listen to his treatment of “Ginsing Sullivan” or “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” shows how once he covers a tune it becomes his own.
Nineteen songs drawn from 12 different albums supply a broad cross-section of work from throughout Blake’s career. From the beginning, he had a unique style. Except for differences in sonic fidelity between his earliest and latest selections, it’s next to impossible to tell from the performance themselves when they were done. Even 30 years ago, Blake’s style was mature and fully developed. If you’ve never experienced the mastery of Norman Blake, Old Ties is a fine introduction.
Looking to rapidly expand your musical horizons? The Singer Songwriter Collection is a great way to meet 17 singular artists, each with their own special voice.
Looking through the list of performers, one is struck by their diversity and musical excellence. Cheryl Wheeler, Ellis Paul, Mary McCaslin, Bill Morrissey, Christine Lavin, Carrie Newcomer, Utah Phillips, Tanya Savory, Patty Larkin, Vance Gilbert, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Nanci Griffith, Jim Ringer, Kimberly McCarver, Bill Stains, Lynn Miles, and David Olney represent an astoundingly varied swath of musical styles, artistic temperaments, and topical concerns.
You’ll find everything from a tune about man’s (and woman’s) best friend to one about mankind’s most evil creation, both done with wit, style, and a plethora of catchy hooks and bridges. Despite a divergent field of artistic sensibilities, compiler Steve Netsky manages to make this whole disc flow smoothly from one song to the next just like a master disk jockey from the golden days of free-form radio. Also Netsky accomplishes the nearly impossible task of capturing the essence of each performer’s special qualities with one representative selection. Talk about having to herd cats…
Even if you are familiar with half the artists on The Singer Songwriter Collection, it’s worth acquiring just to meet the others.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.