Album Review: Ron Block — Walking Song
Ron Block, long known for his decades as superb banjoist and guitarist for Alison Krauss and Union Station, released this past summer his third solo album for Rounder Records, Walking Song. Block takes the opportunity, with this project, to focus most heavily on his talents as a singer, producer and musician. In doing so, he relies on the considerable composing talents of the album’s main lyricist, Rebecca Reynolds, whom he met in the creative online environment of TheRabbitRoom.com.
Serendipitously, the two discovered a propensity for working creatively together. The result is a rare musical treat. Reynolds’s lyrical artistry complements perfectly Block’s subtle genius in this collection of tunes that fits easily into the contemporary bluegrass pocket for which Block is best known. Still, there’s that something extra here. From the nourishing and Celtic-infused “Let There Be Beauty,” to the bouncing blues groove of “Sunshine Billy” to the straight-line, traditional drive of the bluegrass staple “Shortenin’ Bread,” the album offers enough variety to please fans who hold tight to traditional bluegrass as well as those residing firmly on the fringes of acoustic music.
In achieving a subtle, fine-tuned sound for the project, Block called on his AKUS band mates and other noted studio masters. He laid down all of the banjo and guitar himself, and other featured musicians and vocalists include Kate Rusby, Dan Tyminski, Alison Krauss, Suzanne and Evelyn Cox, Sam Bush, Mike Compton, Dan Tyminski, Sierra Hull, Stuart Duncan, Jerry Douglas, Rob Ickes, Jeff Taylor, and John Joe Kelly.
A standout on the album, “Ivy” features ingenious lyrics and an arrangement perfectly suited to Block’s calm, light vocals. Through words that echo back to the song’s title and meaning, Block tells the story of a man’s deliberate journey back home to his true love. In anticipation of his arrival, he requests her love in return when he sings, “Ivy, kiss me twice, like you used to do / Ivy, wind your love around the love I bring to you.” Another album favorite, “Jordan, Carry Me,” features mountainous fiddle tones and Tyminksi’s haunting harmonies. Finally, Block’s worshipful banjo treatment on the compelling “What Wondrous Love is This,” demands attention. The hymn is one of three non-original tunes on the album.
One could argue that there is an occasion for most any album. When you’re out on the open road trying to stay awake, this may not be what you reach for. But when you need to reflect on some pain while expecting some redemption, when you long to hear the whimsy of yesterday relayed through the instrumental prowess of tomorrow, here’s an album for you. And if you’ve got no particular occasion? No matter. In Walking Song, Ron Block and Rebecca Reynolds have created an album that’s an occasion all on its own.
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