Ron Block has had a productive 2015. In addition to his first-ever full length banjo instrumental CD, Hogan’s House Of Music, he has just released a short-form EP of holiday music, Carter’s Creek Christmas.
Here the focus is on familiar carols and hymns, also performed instrumentally, covering the various musical styles Ron is known for performing. There’s swingy bluegrass, contemplative acoustic sounds, and intimate set pieces with Ron on banjo and a variety of guitars. It is all expertly played, thoughtfully arranged, and transparently recorded at Ron’s own Moonlight Canyon Studios. Tim Crouch assists Ron on sundry strings, making for an enticing and deeply satisfying album.
As a banjo player, I’m naturally drawn to the numbers featuring the five string, like the bouncy bluegrass treatment given to Sleigh Ride, which thanks to Tony Trischka is now a staple for Christmas banjo, and a playful version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. A more subdued banjo opens Star in the East, a lovely 19th century meditation on the Epiphany story. Who says the banjo can’t play sacred music?
Ron’s beautiful vintage guitars shine on his straightforward treatments of such favorites as What Child Is This, which also includes some tasty banjo, Angels We Have Heard On High, and O Holy Night. Unsurprisingly, Block gives these hymns a loving, respectful reading absent ornamentation or improvisation.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is played as a stately march with guitar, fiddle and banjo, and special mention goes to Ron’s gorgeous version of the ancient Cherry Tree Carol. This timeless melody stands on its own here as a simple guitar duet.
Anyone who enjoys hearing these classic melodies on acoustic instruments (with the odd electric guitar part) can happily add Carter’s Creek Christmas to their holiday collection. It is offered on CD and as a download from the Ron Block web site, where bundle deals with Hogan’s House Of Music are offered, and in iTunes.