While Norman Blake is far from a household name, the artists he has backed on record certainly are. As a guest musician, Blake has played behind legendary figures like Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. As the 20th century was drawing to a close however, Blake was still largely unrecognized beyond the confines of folk circles. Then Joel and Ethan Coen paid tribute to the founding fathers of Americana on the soundtrack to their 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? There, Blake's readings of "You Are My Sunshine" and "Man of Constant Sorrow" (instrumental), rested comfortably amongst contributions from folk's old and new guard. Though the film and its soundtrack drew near-universal acclaim from critics and moviegoers alike, on the evidence of Flower From the Fields of Alabama, little had changed in the heart and mind of Norman Blake. This is a fact longtime folk fans will no doubt find refreshing, betraying an "if it isn't broken..." philosophy that had served him well over a 28-year recording career. The lion's share of the material on Flower is drawn from the vast pool of traditional American material that Blake grew up with as a young mandolin player in Chattanooga, TN. As always, excellent musicianship is the focus with most of the tracks featuring stunning duets between Blake and guitarist Bill Chuckrow. Though Blake has always been praised more for his picking skills than his limited but steady tenor, he's particularly expressive on readings of "Sitting on Top of the World" and "Eastbound Freight Train." With Flower, Blake proves once again that, though fads may change, the quality of these songs remains the same.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Nathan Bush