Bluegrass fans have enjoyed music from Ron Block since the 1980s when he first appeared on the scene playing banjo with Weary Hearts, the same group that introduced us to Chris Jones, Butch Baldassari, and Mike Bub. After a short stint with The Lynn Morris Band, Ron joined Alison Krauss & Union Station on banjo and guitar, where he has remained ever since. Block’s contributions to multiple AKUS projects have not only effectively supported her bluegrass and acoustic country sound, but also inspired thousands of musicians to study and learn how he does it.
His own recordings have covered a great deal of territory, from sincere and insightful Gospel music to rough and rowdy banjo tunes, all meticulously arranged and impeccably performed. But his latest album, A Light So Fair, takes a very different tack. Subtitled Peaceful Guitar Instrumentals, it features 14 newly-recorded tracks of meditative guitar music, which Ron says was inspired by a suggestion Alison made to him while they were working her Windy City tour.
“Usually in the mornings I spend some time in reading and reflection. For this album I’d pull my guitar out after this peaceful, reflective time. A period of experimentation would lead into an idea for a melody, mostly simple and peaceful, which would then lead into an idea for an arrangement. The melodies are variously inspired by the morning sunlight on our fields in Tennessee, walks in the Yorkshire countryside, a river in Scotland behind Huntly Castle, writers George MacDonald, John Donne, and C.S. Lewis, melodies of Stephen Foster, and ballad books from the 1800s.
By late morning I would be adding another guitar, or shruti (a simple, accordion-like instrument). The idea was to let everything flow into the music from that early morning feeling of peace, focusing on simplicity, tone, and nuance, with the intention that listeners would be able to take away some of that peace for themselves.”
In less capable hands, such a project could easily devolve into elevator music, but Ron, surely among the more literate and serious-minded artists in our genre, has put together something deeply informed by bluegrass and Celtic music, which demonstrates his guitar virtuosity and creative spirit.
Here’s a taste in the music video he created for Donne’s Passage.
A Light So Fair is available now on CD or as a download from Ron’s web site.