This is the second in a series of articles highlighting my favorite recordings. This is not a “best of all” list but simply some commentary on recordings that had a deep and lasting influence on me. The articles will cover all genres of music. Enjoy!
“Home in Sulphur Springs” by Norman Blake
I remember the day well. It was Friday afternoon in October, 1975 and I had just returned home from a stressful day at work. As I got out of my car, I spotted the brown rectangular package sitting upright against the door on my Apartment stoop. My spirits rose immediately! Not only was it Friday, but my long awaited package of treasures from Rounder records had finally arrived.
It was difficult to find small independent label recordings in the small upstate New York town where I lived. In the days before the Internet, ordering through the mail was the only option. I discovered the Massachusetts based Rounder records through a musician friend of mine named, Kevin McElroy. Kevin was from the Boston area and was a traditional Irish and roots musician. Kevin introduced me to real folk, bluegrass and country music.
I ran upstairs and eagerly ripped open the box. Among the six or seven recordings ordered was Norman Blake’s “Home in Sulphur Springs”. Norman recorded it in 1971 in Nashville. I had chosen this record after Kevin had played me “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, the landmark recording by the Nitty Gritty Band. Norman was indeed featured on that record primarily playing some very, very tasty Dobro.
I savored looking at the “Home in Sulphur Springs” album cover. On the front was a large black and white photograph of Norman with what appeared to be a very worn slotted Martin guitar. Norman had on these round wire rim glasses, long hair and a good deal of facial hair. Of course, this was not too unusual for 1975. But some how he looked different …….his picture reminded me more of the Confederate soldiers taken prisoner and photographed at Gettysburg in 1863 than a 70’s hippie. Norman wasn’t smiling at all and seemed quite serious. On the back cover was a picture of an old steam train pulling cars over a wooden trestle bridge as well as some very interesting liner notes about Norman and the music.
I put on the record and some dynamic flat picking started off the magical musical journey with “Bully of the Town”. It only got better after that! Not only were there traditional songs but new songs Norman had written that were terrific. The standouts to me were the original compositions, “Crossing No 9.” and “Ginseng Sullivan”. The musicianship on all the songs was superb. Norman sang in a somewhat whiny southern drawl . It was obvious he was not trying to be commercial in any respect. The songs he had written sounded like they had sprung from the 19th century and were more akin to Stephen Foster or the Carter Family than the typical 70‘s acoustic music. The original songs were biographical and Norman spun them like a good story. Here was a great musician and songwriter!
I could go on and on but I would rather let you discover the fine gems in this recording on your own. Luckily, Norman Blake’s “Home in Sulphur Springs” was re-released on CD format by Rounder and is readily available. With all the hype about “Americana” music these days one can get easily confused on what is the real deal. If it was up to me, the definition of Americana music found in Webster’s dictionary would simply say, Norman Blake. If you are not familiar with Norman Blake and his many recordings, you owe it to yourself to check him out.