Norman Blake: Wood, Wire & Words
A living legend, Norman Blake has influenced multiple generations of roots musicians with his uncompromising vision of American roots music. Acclaimed by the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, Blake has become a touchstone for the guitar in American folk music in the forty+ years since his first LP was released. Throughout his long career, Blake has been at the forefront of multiple revivals of American roots music: in 1969, he brought Johnny Cash’s early Americana to millions as Cash’s house guitarist; the same year he joined Bob Dylan’s exploration of country roots, playing guitar on Nashville Skyline; in 1971 he helped create newgrass via John Hartford’s influential Aereo-Plain album; in 1971 he accompanied the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s homage to early country roots as part of the Will the Circle Be Unbroken sessions; in the 80s and 90s, Norman’s albums with his wife Nancy Blake set a new standard for acoustic roots music; in 2000, he was invited by T Bone Burnett to be a key part of the ground-breaking soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and he’s since appeared on the soundtrack of Hollywood films like Cold Mountain, Walk the Line, and Inside Llewyn Davis. Few artists can claim the influence that Blake has had, but throughout he’s never varied his formula, staying true to the roots of the music and to the stories that the old songs tell.
On January 20, 2015 Plectrafone Records (The Old Time Country Division of Western Jubilee Recording Company), will release Norman Blake’s new album, Wood, Wire & Words. It’s his first album of all original songs in over 30 years! Wood, Wire & Words is a stripped-back acoustic album, just the way Blake likes it, featuring Blake’s vocals and guitar, with Nancy Blake joining on a song. The songs paint intricate and moving pictures of a rogue’s gallery of American outlaws and country folk. Black Bart and Joseph Hare (the outlaw of the Natchez Trace) appear here, as does ill-fated Mexican president Francisco Madero, assassinated in 1913, and the hapless postmaster of Cedar Springs, TN, Audrey Conda, who was gunned down on the job. Blake lays these story songs over a rolling riverbed of turn of the century ragtime guitar picking, his specialty. Born from a time when blues and hillbilly music were just beginning to be marketed to the masses, early ragtime guitar wasn’t afraid to pull in influences from continental Europe or down South in Mexico. On Wood, Wire & Words instrumental rags and a jaunty march rub shoulders with Blake’s nostalgia for an older, more innocent America. Blake has an uncanny ability to remix the roots of our American past and his songs on this album delve deep to tell these stories. He’s chronicling hard lives and bitter tales, but throughout there’s a strain of hope that maybe this time around we’ll learn from our mistakes; maybe we’ll learn from our past.
Our modern world teams with ghosts, with visions of remnants of our collective American past. Few people know these ghosts better than folk guitarist and songwriter Norman Blake, for few people have traveled as far on the back roads of American music as he has. With Wood, Wire & Words he returns to the roads around his home in Sulphur Springs, Georgia, drawing from a lifetime of performance to craft new songs on very old themes.