The Garden Of Love: Songs Of William Blake

Martha Redbone Roots Project

Blackfeet Productions, 2012

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


William Blake (1757-1827) is not a person who is usually mentioned in a 21st century music review. He was a noted English poet and painter who was an early advocate of free love. He also had a spiritual side but was a staunch critic of the organized church.

Martha Redbone is a combination of Native American and African-American decent. She is recognized as a leading lady of contemporary Native American music. She has shared the stage with such artists as Bonnie Raitt, Pete Seeger, Rita Coolidge, and George Clinton. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

They may seem like an unlikely pair, being that they are separated by two centuries, but their talents unite on Redbone’s Roots Project, The Garden Of Love: Songs Of William Blake. It was her vision to write music for some of Blake’s poetry and adapt it to her brand of Appalachian roots and folk music. It may sound like an odd project, but the results emerge as one of the more interesting and creative albums of the year.

Grammy Award winning producer John McEuen was essential to the project. He also co-wrote the music and contributed his talents on a variety of instruments including banjo, guitar, dobro, fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, and lap dulcimer. Other key musicians included keyboardist David Hoffner, guitarist Mark Casstevens, bassist Byron House, and percussionist Debra Dobkin.

Redbone has a voice that reaches out and grabs you. It is a powerful instrument that conveys passion and emotion. It is comfortable in a folk, rhythm & blues, and gospel tradition. It can soar, seduce, and just entertain according to the needs of the song.

Blake had a philosophical side to many of his poems and they have adapted surprisingly well to an American roots format. The topics of life, death, celebration, suffering, and love fit well into Redbone’s Appalachian folk and Piedmont blues sensibilities.

The title track is about freedom and Redbone’s vocal brings a poignant quality to the track.  “Here The Voices Of The Bard” is a vehicle for her voice to soar. “I Rose Up At The Dawn Of Day” finds her transforming romantic poetry into a gospel sermon. “I Heard An Angel Singing” is a mournful presentation of a spiritual journey.

The Martha Redbone Roots Project has issued a very unique album that takes the poetry of William Blake in a direction that even a free thinker like Blake could not have possibly envisioned. It’s an album that deserves a listen.

Rating: B+

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