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.
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.