American guitarist Norman Blake is one of the great unsung heroes of 20th century folk music. Over the course of his long career, he’s been at the forefront of multiple revivals of American roots music, from his time in the late 60s and 70s as the house guitarist for Johnny Cash and his playing on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, to his work creating newgrass with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and in the 2000s reinventing bluegrass for a new generation with T Bone Burnett on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Even with the glitz, glamor, and prestige, including nine Grammy nominations, Blake has held steadfast to the idea that the music should remain as humble as his own aspirations. And though he’s recently undergone a kind of personal renaissance–releasing five albums in the last ten years for the same label, Plectrafone Records–he’s done this work entirely by hand, recording in and around his rural home in the hinterlands of Georgia.
For now, Blake seems content to amble the backroads of his musical memory, using obscure histories for new songs or pulling forth old chestnuts he hasn’t been able to stop singing in all the long years. His new album for venerable record label Smithsonian Folkways, Day by Day, due out October 22, 2021, is an album of favorite folk songs and a few originals done in single take recordings. On guitar and on banjo, Blake showcases the instrumental mastery that’s won him four generations of fans, never playing for speed or virtuosity, but always treating the source material with the greatest respect.