Saturday, August 16, 2008

Norman Blake - Live at McCabe's (1976)

This intimate, laid-back live album from the mid 1970s documents Norman’s first West Coast appearance and captures this great artist in his prime. There is some astounding unaccompanied flatpicking on Live at McCabe's, as well as some pretty cello playing from Nancy Blake with Norman accompanying her on fiddle or guitar, depending on the track.

When I first heard Live at McCabe’s, I wasn’t sure what to think about the constant soloing but as I listen to it now I amazed by Norman’s impeccable sense of timing and the way his guitar runs last forever. I also love the clarity of his playing; each string rings out like a bell. Norman is all over the fretboard on this recording, and his always tasteful soloing is more adventurous and more plentiful on Live at McCabe’s than on any of his contemporary albums. Norman’s arrangement of “John Hardy” is actually quite beautiful and, to my knowledge, this is the only time he recorded it.

If you are a Norman Blake fan or just a fan of great flatpicking music, this album should be in your collection. If I had to find any flaws with Live at McCabe’s, I would say that it lacks continuity. You get the feeling that the actual concert flowed differently than the way it is presented here and you are only hearing a smattering of the material played that night. The entire unedited program (both sets) would probably warrant an even higher rating.

AMG Rating: ****1/2
My Rating: ****

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