A few weeks ago, WORLD magazine published a review of Ron Block’s new album, Walking Song. While, in essence, the review was positive, it was, quite possibly, one of the most dismissive I’ve ever read. The reviewer seemed to be saying that the promotional material for the album, which talks about the process of creating it, should be ignored and the album enjoyed on its own merits. Perhaps not bad advice, except it was said in such a way, with such a tone, that it just irked me.
It irked me enough to make me keep thinking about it, niggling it over again and again in my mind, trying to figure out what bothered me so much.
And then I landed on it. I’ve read about the creative process behind this album. Ron partnered up with Rebecca Reynolds as a lyricist, and magic happened. And I know that it was something new, something Ron had never tried before. And I know that Ron himself would say that the creative process that made the album what it is; in fact, he has said as much, “Rebecca came along and said, ‘Let’s just be kids creating again.’ It’s more like what I was doing when I was 17, 18 years old, even though the stuff I was doing wasn’t as developed. It was just a kid sitting there experimenting, having a good time.”
I wanted to respond to the WORLD review, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to say what I really wanted in a letter to the editor, so instead I decided to just write my own. It posted yesterday over at The Curator. Here’s a snippet:
My love of American folk music has nostalgic tendencies to be sure. However, as I look at the growing popularity in recent years of bands like The Civil Wars, The Avett Brothers, The Lone Bellow, The Lumineers, The Vespers, etc. (and of course the meteoric fame of the non-American-American-folk-rock band Mumford and Sons), I realize I’m not alone in my love for Americana.
There is something about American folk music that speaks to us, something in its essence that keeps us asking for more.
Here’s the thing, though. As much as I love all those bands listed above and latch on to nearly every new album that seeks to generate the Americana sound, it’s rare for me to find an album that fully captures what I found under that patchwork quilt. It’s not often contemporary musicians strike the same chords in my soul as “Down in the Valley.”