Norman Blake is without question one of the most influential musicians in the acoustic stratosphere. His distinctive guitar style has been studied by many aspiring players. His original songs have captured the ears of countless listeners due in large part to their symbolism, and imagery of days gone by. Guitarist Bob Minner, known for his longtime work with Tim McGraw as well as his original bluegrass songs, has released From Sulphur Springs To Rising Fawn (The Songs of Norman Blake), a project that not only pays tribute to Blake, but captures the spirit of his music in a creative and refreshing manner.
Minner took a minimalist approach with this recording, which considering the subject matter is an appropriate choice. From Sulphur Springs to Rising Fawn features scores of talent all throughout. The opening track, Last Train From Poor Valley pairs Minner with Tim Stafford who delivers a fine performance. Ginseng Sullivan, sung here by Ron Block, is perfectly suited for him. His vocal delivery on this piece is stellar. These two pieces exemplify Minner’s masterful job of pairing each artist with songs that suit their individual strengths.
Widow’s Creek is a fine instrumental duet between Bob and Kenny Smith. Church Street Blues features Vince Gill whose rendition of this classic carries a strong emotional quality. On & On & On features Minner accompanying Jeremy Stephens and Corrina Rose Logston on clawhammer banjo. This is one of the tracks where everything from the instrumentation to the song’s arrangement works perfectly.
Ronnie Bowman is featured on Green Light On The Southern, another great example of taking a beloved song and breathing new life into it. Lonesome Jenny featuring Dale Ann Bradley is a mellow track that features a string section arranged and performed by Chris Carmichael.
Hangin’ Dog is a piece by Blake’s wife Nancy, performed here by Minner and Mike Compton. Other tracks worthy of mention are Slow Train Through Georgia, featuring Shawn Camp, and Randall Collins, with Trey Hensley. The latter piece deviates quite a bit from Norman’s original 1972 recording, but the arrangement is very tasteful.
Three of the tracks feature just Bob Minner. Macon Rag has Minner playing both guitar parts while Year Of The Locust (Farewell To Old Rufus) displays Bob’s abilities on guitar and mandolin. The closing track on From Sulphur Springs To Rising Fawn is Fiddler’s Dram/Whiskey Before Breakfast. Though it is a standard tune, Minner’s rendition is patterned closely after Blake’s version, which has been played by many guitarists.
From Sulphur Springs To Rising Fawn is a fitting tribute to an important figure in traditional music. While Bob Minner could’ve easily played all fifteen of these songs as close as he could to Norman Blake, he chose to present his own take while also maintaining the unique characteristics that each piece has. It’s a really wonderful effort.