A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Arthur Berman
Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, and Ralph Stanley are not only talented and creative musicians, but they also reveal something of the music from their region. Lesser known, but clearly equally grounded in traditional sources, is Ralph Blizard.
This link is explicit on Blizard's treatment of his own song, Man in the Moon, which Ralph first recorded with the original Southern Ramblers over one half century ago. Blizard displays a rough edged mountain sound he picked up from his home in Appalachia. He shared that sound with the people in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia before retiring from performing to raise a family and work for Eastman/Kodak.
Southern Ramble is no pale imitation of Ralph Blizard and the Southern Ramblers' earlier work. Blizard can still cut it on the fiddle in a wide variety of styles. He plays in a style that David Grisman would certainly appreciate on the Gypsy Stomp, a tune Ralph penned. Blizard captures the mystery and flavor of gypsy music with the help of Gordy Hinners' banjo. Blizard is not content to recreate the past. What we hear is an artist fully in touch with his creative powers.
Like many old time performers Blizard enjoys adding a lighter touch as he masterfully demonstrates on the pun-filled Brand New Beau. Ralph co-wrote the song with band member John Lilly who provides vocals as well as playing guitar, mandolin and bass. Rounding out the group are Phil Jamison on guitar, bass and vocals along with John Herrman on banjo, bass and vocals.
Although Blizard has one release on June Appal his other contemporary recordings have been self produced and difficult to find. He has appeared on a couple of Rounder compilations but this CD should expose him to a wider audience - no doubt to their delight.
The New Southern Ramblers have performed together since 1982 so they are quite comfortable with one another. The band features tight yet relaxed arrangements. Although all members of the band sing, I must confess that the Ramblers' singing is a bit too "pretty" for me. The group's sound contrasts sharply with the depth and knowledge this listener hears in Blizard's voice. With Blizard and the Ramblers, there appears to be a sizable contrast between an extraordinary and unique talent and people who are, shall we say, competent and enjoyable singers.
The CD contains the following selections: