Norman Blake — Day by Day
If you are under fifty the name Norman Blake probably doesn’t mean that much to you. But, if you are in the other category and a follower of the folk, old-time, and country music wave of the sixties and seventies his name is legendary and was a much sought after studio musician in Nashville.
Having played and recorded with the likes of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez, John Hartford, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, his innovative techniques and interpretations of neo-traditionalist Americana acoustic roots music played on 6 and 12 strings guitars (known for his stellar flatpicking), mandolin, six string and standard banjos, dobro, and viola, along with his distinctive vocals was highly respected in that musical genre.
In 1986 Blake was chosen Best Multi-Instrumentalist by the readers of “Fret” magazine and over time has nine Grammy nominations and won a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”. Since 1972 most of his work has been solo along with duets by his wife Nancy on hillbilly cello. However, his individual work as a studio musician didn’t end and since 1972 he has performed on 38 studio albums and 4 movie soundtracks.
Blake’s latest release Day by Day on Smithsonian Folkways Records recorded at Cook Sound Studios is a testament to him returning to his and traditional folk and old-time music of the ages. It is basic in it most pure form but, at the same time innovatively interpreted vocally and instrumentally as only Blake can do it.
Day by Day features nine songs which were done live in the studio in one afternoon and include seven covers and two originals with Blake on guitar, five string banjo, and vocals with The Rising Fawn String Ensemble included on two songs that features Nancy Blake on vocal and cello, James Bryan on fiddle, Joel McCormick on vocal and guitar, and David Hammonds on vocal.
Traditional songs covered, many from the nineteenth century include “When the Roses Bloom,” “Just Tell Them That You Saw Me,” “I’m Free Again,” “Montcalm and Wolfe,” “Three Leaves of Shamrock,” “The Dying Cowboy,” and “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
Originals done in the traditional style include “Old Joe’s March,” and “Time”.
Production is nicely done in an old time feel including a nice booklet that explains the stories behind the traditional songs, a nice biography on Blake, and a reflection written by Blake about his goal in his making of recordings. If there is one drawback, there is no explanation of his original material. There are a plethora of wonderful photo’s on the outer packaging and booklet of Blake and his wife Nancy along with photo’s of the recording session taken by Christi Carrroll that show the simplicity of the Blake’s life on the their farm and recording sessions.
This is certainly not a mainstream release but, it is a historical release. For true Folklorists it is a look into the past and roots of traditional, folk, and old-time music that has set our standards into what we listen to in today’s modern genres in the same vein. What really sets this apart from others, is that it is done by a master of that genre and is one of the last living connections to our past who has spent his whole life doing it. Well done!
Day by Day can be found at www.folkways.si.edu, Amazon, and all streaming services.