Material: Gentle and breezy, yet serious and poignant, Robert Sarazin Blake and his coterie of players plunder the breadth of Americana, punctuating their style with influences ranging from folk and country to pop-rock, blues and more. Unafraid of political stances, he tackles the issue of violence inspired by hate speech with “19 Shot.” “Single Women,” alternatively, celebrates a defiant acceptance of single life, then gets chased with “Couples,” a quirky corollary that examines the magical absurdity of relationships. Uniting Blake’s tunes is a delivery and flair that conjures the staunch simplicity and manly passion of Ernest Hemingway.
Musicianship: Blake being the group’s natural fulcrum, his voice, rich and strong as a Redwood, anchors every arrangement. Whether slow or fast, exuberant or dreamy, the others display understated mastery, ably shifting tempos and letting their notes hang together like a constellation or fly over the audience like a shooting star. In rare instances where the individual players are allowed to stretch their legs, every effort is made to avoid siphoning attention from Blake himself.
Performance: It’s always a positive when an artist hits the stage prepared, but Blake and his Letters take this credo to an extreme. This discipline pays off in spades. Technical blunders are entirely absent and every moment is marked with polish and panache. Blake displays particular ability when speaking, serving amusing quips and promoting his merchandise absent wearying clichés. The downside is that the illusion of surprise, the hallmark of any live performance, has been wiped clean.
Summary: Here we have something novel––the troubadour who hogs the spotlight yet isn’t insufferably self-indulgent. Blake’s supporting players can’t be faulted; their skill and commitment remain palpable. It is counterintuitive, but Blake’s only downfall remains his considerable experience. Avoiding a sense of routine would infuse his set with an additional layer of excitement. Meanwhile, check out his latest, Recitative, or any of his other myriad recordings, presented on his label, Same Room Records.