Memphis-based singer-songwriter Brian Blake is here with his debut album, Book of Life, but has already achieved some notoriety as a songwriter, having won the songwriter award of the Year in 2021 by the Memphis Songwriters Association for “Move on JD”. one of the songs included in this effort. Blake also proved to be astute. When a successful regional singer-songwriter wants national attention, they often need name recognition from a producer or musician or both. Blake turned to highly respected Texas singer-songwriter Walt Wilkins and multi-instrumentalist Ron Flynt as co-producers, who helped record the album in Austin. e Win, Flynt, fiddler Warren Hood, Wilkins and singer Betty Soo – a veritable who’s who of Austin session musicians.
Blake begins his moving series of stories that essentially unfold in chronological order with “Rice Fields in the Distance,” a story that immediately greets the listener with “Oid Hank sits on the porch / rocks all day / Ever since he went blind, you know he ain’t / hadn’t much to say…” As the narrator talks about Blake’s great-grandparents raising a family of eight children during the Great Depression and managing to make ends meet, Hank’s wife Kate lives to be 97, the theme being that the hard work has benefits. The title track is about coping with death and finding the resilience to move forward while “Rose Marie,” from an alleged World War II vintage, has a soldier recently called up for service, doing his a tearful farewell to his wife while promising her his return.
Some of the songs diverge from the family to certain landmarks in the area’s history, such as the catchy blues “Ott Hotel,” a chilling tale about supposed past murders and the ghosts who now inhabit the once-famous location and popular before the disappearance of two visitors. The flippant “Meant to Be” is more oblique but likely a reference to someone in Blake’s family history who goes through marriages like disposable napkins. Blake delivers it somewhat ironically, so the character deserves little sympathy. “Move On JD” is the quintessential song about a homeless vet, a subject few writers touch upon. Ultimately, this JD finds a home, but not in the way you might think. “New Year’s Day” is a fond memory of past lover.
Brotherton’s mandolin sets an energetic beat in “Wilson,” on the age-old subject of “man’s best friend,” in this case a rescue dog, who has become the protagonist’s faithful companion. “In Too Deep” is another regrettable, yet fiery, perspective on a lost relationship. The remarkable track “Little Boys” depicts this full circle when witnessing the death of one’s grandfather and father. This indelible refrain is durably provocative – “Because grown men never lose their daddy/Only little boys do/And inside every man/Lives a little boy too/Lives a little boy too.”
The closing track, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” brings us to the present day with Blake painting images of small American towns, his favorite haunts, for the first time, and reminiscing about the freedom of youth. It’s as if he had tears in his eyes, took a deep breath, and then expressed his gratitude for growing up there. Every story here rings with authenticity while the music is supportive and never intrusive. We hear Blake’s every word and marvel at his storytelling.