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A lot of you long-time Rabbit Room readers know Ron Block from his thought-provoking posts, his playing along side Andrew Peterson at the Ryman every Christmas, his sessions at Hutchmoot, or his nights at the Local Show in Nashville. But here’s the thing about Ron: He’s a humble guy, and it’s easy to miss the fact that he is also in one of the most successful bands of all time. Dude has won 14 Grammys. He’s toured toured with Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and lots more. He’s played on the albums of major recording artists like Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Darius Rucker, Alan Jackson, Little Big Town, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, and Vince Gill. He’s even played at the White House—twice. I mean, come on! And in light of all that, one more thing I love about Ron: After twenty years in Nashville, Ron Block is still the only musician that has ever invited me over for dinner and said, “Bring your guitar.”
I was in college when my ears first melted to the groundbreaking bluegrass of Alison Krauss and Union Station. Since then, bluegrass music has not-so-silently taken over the world, with AKUS as its standard bearer. The musicians of AKUS have always been some of the worlds best, including Ron, the band’s long time banjo player.
Always stage left, stalwart and steady as the flow of the Appalachian’s mighty Nantahala, Ron has brought that most identifiable of bluegrass instruments to life for AKUS for over twenty years. And now, Ron has released his fourth studio album and first all-instrumental bluegrass album, Hogan’s House of Music.
I expected dynamic arrangements and bold musicianship from Block and friends like Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski, and Stuart Duncan, but what makes Hogan’s House of Music such a welcome surprise is Block’s shrewd song selection. The record leaps to a start with the groovy, string-bending “Smartville,” and it keeps me interested from track to track, highlighting the breathtaking musical mastery of Block and his friends, as well as the broad diversity within bluegrass music.
And the melodies! Ron takes tender care of his listeners by choosing terrifically hummable standards to shuffle between his compelling original songs. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but the lilting sweetness of “The Spotted Pony” stole my heart. Later I realized Alison Krauss and Stuart Duncan are the dueling fiddlers on that old tune, pleasantly affirming my affections.
As the banjo/guitarist for Alison Krauss and Union Station, Ron Block is one of the most successful and decorated musicians (in any genre) of all time. As a solo artist, Ron Block just made a freaking great bluegrass album. From start to finish, the album takes me on a journey. When it’s over, I want to start again. Good thing for you it releases today.