Norman Blake

Live at McCabe's

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Long cherished by Norman Blake's fans as one of the greatest flatpicking albums of all time, Live at McCabe's isn't as essential as some of the guitarist's studio records of the time (see Whiskey Before Breakfast), but there's a warm, ramshackle beauty about this concert that is every bit as charming. Originally released on Takoma in 1976, it was out of print for years before an overwhelming fan petition prompted a reissue of the album in 1999. The sound is marvelous and, as one would expect, there's a ton of fine flatpicking here, as well as a rare chance to hear Blake live and in his prime. Joined by then-wife Nancy on three cuts, Blake switches to fiddle for a few tunes, including the lovely "Border Widow." His rendition of "Nine Pound Hammer" is one of the best on record, and equally great is a loose arrangement of "Arkansas Traveler" that finds a number of other half melodies and improvisations darting in and out. Some of these tunes turned up on previous and later studio albums; some he would never record again.

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