Brian Blake BOOK OF LIFE

Brian Blake
Book of Life

A Once In a Lifetime Americana Debut Telling a Blue Collar Family History

I’m never really comfortable reviewing ‘concept albums’ as I’m not always sure I ‘get’ what the songwriter is trying to get over.
Thankfully I do ‘get’ what Brian Blake wanted to convey here; a ‘family journey and tales thereof’ from the beginnings of the 20th Century right up to today; post-pandemic’ …. but fear not, dear reader it’s not as ‘heavy’ as that may sound; and plenty of individual songs will appeal emotionally to plenty of people who aren’t in any way related to the writer.
The opening song, Rice Field In The Distance is about Blake’s farmer Great Grandparents and how they struggled through the Great Depression and it certainly works as a story-opener; but also hints at the tales (the late great) Townes Van Zandt and Tom Russell have wove too, over the years and will leave plenty sniffling back tears.
If that’s you; those tears will fall during the following song Book of Life which follows on historically too; but could also be about families in the 21st Century who also have to ‘pack up’ and look for work across the other side of the country; and that country can just as well be the UK, Australia, Africa as well as the USA.
Just like everything that follows, Book of Life is a thoughtfully constructed song that uses a tight melody and delicate fiddle and guitar playing to squeeze the heartstrings.
While a lot subtler than Tom Russell’s The Rose of Roscree, which I loved; Blake’s stories aren’t as ‘theatrical’ in concept; yet could and should be seen and heard in the way they are on record; no doubt with associated back stories; but as I said, each and every one stands aloft on its own merits too.
I love the “Are we rolling” intro to the charming Meant To Be with its jaunty shuffling beat; I’m not sure which family member it’s about; and that doesn’t matter as it’s just a darn good Country song in its own rite.
Still with the ‘concept’ in mind; all families have dark sides and stories; and Brian Blake captures that bleakness exceptionally well in Wilson and the deep and intricate Little Boys; which both showcase why he is previously an Award Winning songwriter.
Be under no illusions, Blake’s family never go on to win the Lotto or become Hollywood Stars; these songs are all about the trouble and strife ‘everyman’ Blue Collar families face across the world; and each song could be about someone in your own family; which is how Move On J.D made me sit up and pay attention. Every family probably has a J.D in them; a veteran who returns scarred both physically and mentally; and lived in a time when these things were swept under the carpet and ignored …. and boy does Blake dig really deep on this harrowing tale.
Repeating myself again; as a ‘concept album’ this works very well; but so many if not actually every song stands on its own merits; which brings me to really special songs that have tied as my personal Favourites.
The album finale, Nothing Gold Can Stay is another that came along at the right time as Blake tells a tale of a small town dying and not knowing it; and I heard it the day after explaining to my son and his wife about how our family village was ‘officially graded ‘Category D’ (for death) in 1967 when the coal mine closed. Blake’s story mirrors our own and many more in NE England at that time.
The other, The Ott Hotel is just a cracking and indeed crackling Alt. Country/Americana song/story that again hints at being in the vein of TVZ or his antecedents, from Guy and Rodney to Steve and beyond ….. even making me lean forward at one stage so as not to miss a word or stark note.
This is an incredibly mature album for a debut; but when scratching the surface you find that Brian Blake has been near the top of the songwriting pile for quite a few years now; which makes me wonder why; on this offering it’s taken him so long to actually sing his own songs …. but the music industry has always been a mystery to me.

Released November 18th 2022


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.