Norman & Nancy Blake, My Dear Old Southern Home (Shanachie DVD, 2003)

Shoot, this here's just two homebodies sittin' an' pickin' and playin' some of the sweetest music this side of West Virginia. Yessiree. Norman Blake has been the flatpicker of choice for generations of musicians looking for authentic guitar picking. From John Hartford to Johnny Cash; from Kris Kristofferson to Marty Stuart; from Rodney Crowell to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band...Norman's been there. He began playing professionally when he was 16 years old, and Nancy has been playing all of her life too. Together they blend seemlessly into a sound that both echoes the old-time mountain music they both love, and points in new directions for the future.

This DVD is a simple two camera setup. The backdrop is a soundstage decorated to look like a living room: floor lamps, furniture, carpets, comfy chairs; Norman and Nancy sit facing each other. Each has a guitar on their lap. They talk in the direction of each other, shy, not media stars at all. Norman describes the guitars -- old Martins -- the specifics of each one carefully delineated. The unique fret design, a little history about this one's "lost weekend." Then they play. Mountain music, reels, jigs. They are extraordinary.

Between each tune, they talk in their homey Southern drawl, laughing at inside jokes, telling tales about the songs, about the mandolin they're playing now. When they play they are totally focused on the music. There's very little showmanship...but somehow you can't turn away. You can hear how Gillian Welch and David Rawlings found their source here. Nancy plays guitar, mandolin, and cello; Norman picks guitar, dobro, mandolin, and harmonica (on a rack). They harmonize. There has been some post production editing, which allows each player to play a different instrument during solos. That is to say that while "The Last Train From Poor Valley" starts with the duo on guitars, during the dobro solo...you see Norman playing dobro...tricky, if a little disconcerting. "Old Mother Flanagan" is a fiddle/cello duet.

Some of the verbal interplay is hilarious; for instance, after her mandolin feature on "Jimmy in the Swamp" Nancy blurts out, "It's got just enough mistakes to let 'em know that I'm [bleep]in' human!" and then she laughs so loud and long that you just know it was an honest spontaneous moment. And that's what the whole program is...spontaneous, live [for the most part], darn good picking. No special features except 46 minutes of pure Americana!

 

[David Kidney]

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