Ron Block is familiar to bluegrass and mainstream country music fans by virtue of his long tenure as banjo player and guitarist in Alison Krauss’ band Union Station, a gig that has kept bread on his family’s table for more than twenty years, and he’s very happy for it to keep going another twenty, thank you very much. Throughout those years he has penned a substantial catalog of songs not only for Krauss but for a wide array of talents in the Nashville orbit, too. Known as a deep thinker with an avid following on a number of websites devoted to theology and philosophy, his first two solo recordings were explorations of his own deeply held Christian faith. Walking Song represents something of a departure, in that while it is still, as the title suggests, strikingly thoughtful and imaginative, he seems to be more actively engaging the listener on a much broader philosophical, even existential level.
A large part of this difference in approach stems from Block’s internet encounter and subsequent friendship with poet and lyricist Rebecca Reynolds. After finding substantial artistic and spiritual common ground, Walking Song became a collaboration of Reynolds’ lyrics set to Block’s music. On tunes like “Ivy” and “Take Me To The Ocean,” Reynolds demonstrates a fertile imagination and ability to cast and hold imagery ranging from subtle and gray to bold and vibrant. Block has a naturally expressive voice that easily interprets and conveys that imagery, and for a guy known mostly as a banjo player, he continues to show that he is a superlative guitar player as well. Although there is some straight-ahead bluegrass here (“Nickel Tree Line”), this is an album that is directed more toward what has come to be known as the “Americana” audience.
Unsurprisingly, the supporting cast includes Krauss and the rest of her band (Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Barry Bales), but with the inspired addition of folks like Suzanne Cox, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, Rob Ickes and Kate Rusby as well. The result is a richly textured instrumental and vocal tapestry that complements Block’s and Reynolds’ music in striking fashion.
— John Lupton