Norman Blake / Nancy Blake

The Morning Glory Ramblers

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It's hard to believe that Morning Glory Ramblers is the first full-length recording by Norman and Nancy Blake in eight years. Certainly they've been active, from playing on all 47 Down From the Mountain dates, performing on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Cold Mountain soundtracks, June Carter Cash's final album, Wildwood Flower, and various other projects. This album, recorded on the soundstage of the Western Jubilee Warehouse in Colorado Springs, is a dynamite setting for the material found here. There are 17 songs in this collection, seven of them traditional melodies, still others so old they've seldom been heard over the last century, a Hank Williams' tune, and a couple by friends of Norman and Nancy's that are so saturated in the deep country, they could have been written decades before. The set opens with "Sunny Side of Life," one of two songs closely associated with the Carter Family. The strident, two-part harmony and dual guitars are the perfect opener for an album that is arresting for its immediacy and its strident honoring of tradition. That said, these songs aren't nostalgic; they are part of a living, breathing tradition that informs as it delights. The other Carter-linked number, "When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland," written by George Evans in 1913, is the strongest thing here; its lyric rambles and shimmers, floating through the woven guitars. Norman and Nancy's voices are so closely aligned, without artifice or affect, that emotion just drips form the verses. One of the album's centerpieces is "I Loved You Better Than You Knew," by Johnny Carroll (not the rockabilly legend; this was written in 1918). Its melodic architecture evokes both Celtic balladry and the mountain music of Southern Appalachia. Also in the middle of the record is "The Wayworn Traveler," by John Matthias from 1836, an American gospel tune that is well-known as "Palms of Victory." Of the modern songs, Laurie Lewis' bluegrass gospel number, "Dry Bones," is the standout. The album closes with an obscurity by Hank Williams called "Men With Broken Hearts." Its verse is narrated by Nancy, however, adding an entirely new meaning to the lyric. This record drips with integrity, with genius, and with soul. Norman and Nancy may consider this only the latest chapter in their vocational legacy, but it stands out, far away from other recordings that attempt to do the same thing. The reason is simple: Norman and Nancy perform these tunes as unfinished legacies, as bricks in a road that has come from the winding hills of time and into the modern era, but continue to who knows when and where, and as such, are still revealing their meanings to both layers and listeners. This is a must-have for those interested in the poetry at the heart of American roots music.

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