Hometown: Conifer, CO
Sounds Like: Tony Rice, Dan Tyminski, Doc Watson, Larry Sparks, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out
You'll hear it in his voice immediately ... the original strain of Appalachian mountain music that lies at the heart of all great modern bluegrass and country. Greg Blake grew up in the mountains of southwest West Virginia, and when he sings, you can hear a voice that connects to the great old generations of mountain singers, invested with a rich twang and rumbling drawl, and the kind of eerily powerful high tenor cry that first inspired the 'high, lonesome sound.'
On his new album, Songs of Heart and Home, he's joined by some of the best bluegrass talents today, not least members of the band he leads as vocalist, Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, plus guests like 3-time IBMA Vocalist of the Year Claire Lynch, K.C. Groves (Uncle Earl), bluegrass icon Laurie Lewis, mandolinist John Reischman, fiddler Blaine Sprouse, bassist Mark Schatz and dobro master Sally Van Meter (who also produced the album). But it's his voice that rings out above them all, earnestly delivering songs of family, love and life in the hills.
These days he's traded the low, rolling mountains of his West Virginia homeland for the sky-scraping peaks of Colorado, and he's moved his lifelong calling as a minister to the full-time bluegrass music scene, but he still keeps his faith close and his family closer. On songs like "Dreaming of a Little Cabin" or "Turn Your Heart Toward Home", you can hear the gentle guidance of a pastor and a devout family man reflecting on the good path. While bluegrass gospel may be one of Greg Blake's signature talents, he's certainly not averse to a little rough-and-tumble country singing, and his new album features a blazing bluegrass version of Johnny Cash's "Hey Porter" that shows off Blake's razor-sharp and lightning-fast guitar picking abilities. Drawing from a wide variety of song sources, from Cash to 80s country (Joe Diffie), to Canadian folk (Ian Tyson), to the original source himself, Big Mon, Greg Blake has a far ranging set of influences but a powerful Appalachian base to his music that resets these vocal gems in new ways.
Growing up in West Virginia, Greg Blake was immersed in the sounds of old country, mountain bluegrass, and gospel harmonies from a young age. Moving to Kansas City, he started playing in more and more bands, eventually recording on 12 albums for bands like the Bluegrass Missourians, Mountain Holler, The Harvest Quartet and more. He's twice been nominated for the SPBGMA's Traditional Male Vocalist of the Year and five times won the SPBGMA's Guitarist of the Year, not to mention the Kansas State Flatpicking championship. After moving to Conifer, Colorado, a 'bedroom community' nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain Front Range just a few miles southwest of Denver, Greg joined all-star progressive bluegrass band Jeff Scroggins & Colorado as the lead vocalist. With both Jeff and his son Tristan breaking new ground instrumentally on the banjo and mandolin, Greg stepped up to the plate as a guitarist, and crafted the band's sound around his signature high tenor vocals. They've recorded two albums and have a third about to be released.
Now after touring North America and raising a family, he's poised to come into his own as one of the true Appalachian stars of modern bluegrass. This debut solo album, Songs of Heart and Home, measures Greg Blake spreading his wings as a vocalist and bandleader, crafting genre crossing music and following in the footsteps of his idol, Mac Wiseman, to make music that appeals to Bluegrass, Folk, Country, and Gospel fans alike.
It's no small thing that Greg Blake was able to gather some of the best musicians and vocalists in bluegrass to join him on his debut solo album. A big man with an even bigger heart, he brings an uplifting joy to the music he knows and loves. Unfettered by genre divisions and unconstrained by tradition, he just follows his heart to find the deep mountain roots of the music, infusing everything he sings with a powerful, soaring spirit.
- Hearth Music
“Johnny Cash is, of course, a titan in the canon of American music. Bands of all styles have covered his tunes for as long as they've been around -- ranging from noodly jam outfit Phish doing "I Walk the Line" to pop-punkers New Found Glory tackling "It Ain't Me Babe" in 2007. Here's another to add to that collection: Greg Blake's "Hey Porter." The Colorado picker opens up with a flourishing, fantastic bassline provided by bluegrass badass Mark Schatz, before diving into a classic bluegrass clip.
The crisp clarity of the recording make it seem like Blake's take could've been the original. The team power behind the track is as driving as the mighty train Cash first wrote about.”
Allison Hussey - The Bluegrass Situation
“Greg Blake is blessed with a powerful voice and a smart ear for country and bluegrass music.
[This] is an ambitious project in which he displays these talents to great effect.
"Songs of Heart and Home" doesn't rest easy in a single groove, and that's its charm. Bill Monroe is well-represented ... as is Ian Tyson, with Blake singing the standout "Summer Wages" with strength and feeling. Blake's take on the Bill Staines number "Where I Live" hits its mark as well as any on the record.
Blake's voice is strong, calling to mind Don Willams or Merle Haggard. Blake's guitar picking is good, if sometimes breathless ...
Start to finish, "Songs of Heart and Home," offers solid, respectful interpretations of a range of acoustic and bluegrass music. Blake's voice is the singular thread that ties the work together. It's a firm bond that seals the deal.
(follow the link below to read the entire article)”
Fred Smith - Country Standard Time
“Songs of Heart & Home focuses on good songs in the styles that defined the character of bluegrass, ranging from gospel to country to folk, in its formative years. Though some master pickers join in the effort, except in the occasional instrumental the stress is always on Blake's crisp-as-a-waterfall voice, pleasingly suited to the stories and feelings the songs convey.
More than anyone, Blake reminds me of Bill Clifton, who helped expand recognition of the old Southern rural sound associated with mountain music, the Carter Family, early hillbilly and more. Clifton, who sang in a smooth voice, had an exemplary ear for sweet, tuneful material. Like Clifton, Blake is no high-lonesome singer, but he's no less a powerful, soulful interpreter than those who take a fiercer approach.
(Follow the link below to read the entire review/article!)”
Jerome Clark - Rambles.Net
“Greg Blake, the fine lead singer & guitarist with Jeff Scroggins & Colorado and a West Virginia transplant, has released his first solo effort, and the results are very impressive.
With an excellent cast of supporting musicians, Blake’s choice of material is equally strong. There are two fine Johnny Cash songs: “Hey Porter,” which Blake sings like he wrote it ... “Fifty Miles From Nowhere” is a well-crafted original ... Ian Tyson’s “Summer Wages” receives as nice a treatment as any you will find anywhere ...
As well done as all those are, the highlights of this release have to be “Turn Your Heart Toward Home” by Steve and Annie Chapman and Brumley’s “Dreaming Of A Little Cabin,” if on nothing more than the strength of Blake’s soulful singing and Claire Lynch’s vocal contributions—very, very nice.
This is a well conceived, nicely executed release with top-flight songs and excellent vocals and instrumental work.
AW - Bluegrass Unlimited
“As lead vocalist for Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, West Virginia native Greg Blake adds a healthy portion of mountain soul to that progressive bluegrass group’s sound. He quickly shows why many regard him as a first-rate traditional bluegrass singer by kicking off the 13-track, 44-minute Songs of Heart and Home, his debut solo album, with a stout take on the Stanley Brothers’ “Sweetest Love.”
Solid picking from a band that includes John Reischman (mandolin), Blaine Sprouse (fiddle), and Sally Van Meter (Dobro) and Blake’s tinge of mountaineer twang tie together well-chosen songs into a thematic whole, bringing the bluegrass treatment to songs from Johnny Cash (a propulsive “Hey Porter” and a plaintive “I Still Miss Someone”), Ian Tyson (“Summer Wages”), and Joe Diffie (“Home”).
Featuring guest vocal turns from Laurie Lewis and Claire Lynch, Greg Blake’s Songs of Heart and Home is one of the better traditional bluegrass albums of 2015.”
Aaron Keith Harris - The Lonesome Road Review
“Greg Blake isn’t kidding when he calls his debut solo album Songs of Heart and Home. Of 13 songs, over half have “home” in their title. Guitarist and singer Blake, who fronts progressive bluegrass combo Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, returns to his Appalachian roots with this collection.
Blake’s rich, grainy baritone, harkening to the hollers of his West Virginia home, goes from bluff and hearty to forlorn in a pinch, making potentially cloying sentiments about hearth and family ring true. His flat-picking skills are not neglected. On “Cruising Timber,” Blake’s labyrinthine picking rockets up a winding mounting road and barrels down the other side, colliding with chugging banjo, sawing fiddle and trilling mandolin, all of which flow like tributaries to a stream.
On his duet with Laurie Lewis on her own “The Hills of My Home,” Blake’s guitar spirals down the tune’s jaunty switchbacks before bubbling up like a mountain spring. (See the rest of the article in Acoustic ”
Pat Moran - Acoustic Guitar (#278 - Feb., 2016)
“This is a very fine album by West Virginia native and current Colorado-by-way-of-Kansas transplant Greg Blake, who has been a regional star for many years and has won the SPBGMA’s Guitarist of the Year and the Kansas State Flatpicking championship multiple times. On this project, however, he modestly keeps the guitar pyrotechnics to a minimum in favor of songs, which he sings in an attractive baritone voice and which he gathers from such obvious sources as Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Johnny Cash and from as far afield as Bill Staines and Ian Tyson. He’s accompanied by an all-star cast that includes Claire Lynch, Blaine Sprouse, and hotshot banjo picker Jeff Scroggins. If you’re looking for Grade-A meat-and-potatoes modern bluegrass, this disc is for you.”
Rick Anderson - CD HotList
“Greg Blake has that rare gift... a way of singing that right away makes you want to listen. I like his rich tone and the way he articulates his words with care and meaning. His smooth style recalls favorite classic bluegrass singers like Mac Wiseman and Bill Harrell. My ears feel good when he sings!”
Pete Wernick, Hot Rize - ReverbNation
““Songs of Heart and Home” by Greg Blake is a stunning achievement. By pulling in music from a variety of sources, both traditional and contemporary Blake has crafted an album that has all the power of traditional bluegrass, sounding completely familiar without becoming cliché. The supporting cast is, of course, a big part of the record. Mark Schatz’s bass slapping that drives “Hey Porter” has the groove and power of the freight train they’re singing about on the tune. On a project like this one, produced by Sally Van Meter, you expect everything to sound just right, every instrument and vocal just where it belongs and that’s just what you hear, smooth like summer wind with the kick of moonshine, sounding perfectly planned and still spontaneous.”
Kevin Slick - Colorado Bluegrass Music Society - BlogGrass
“Greg Blake is the real thing. He was born and grew up in West Virginia, in the heart of bluegrass tradition. There are many great bluegrass musicians from places like California and Massachusetts, and I wouldn’t ever want to take anything way from them. But there is just something special about artists like Greg who grew up surrounded by traditional mountain and bluegrass music, from that state that gave us such amazing bluegrass and country artists as Hazel Dickens, Tim O’Brien and Kathy Mattea.
Greg not only has a wonderful voice, he knows how to put a song across with passion and heart, and with that special high lonesome edge and energy that marks all of the great bluegrass lead vocalists. He has compelling stage presence and charisma—and he’s a really nice guy.
I’m a serious fan of Greg and his music!”
“Greg grew up in the mountains of southwest West Virginia, and the rich twang of his singing voice quickly betrays his connection to earlier generations of mountain singers ... he returns to his Appalachian roots for his debut solo album, informing those roots with the sensibilities of modern bluegrass.
For this project, he’s gathered around him a host of excellent bluegrass stars ... But in spite of these noteworthy guest contributions, it’s still Greg’s voice that rings out true on this apt choice of songs in well-crafted settings that give the very best of no-frills revival bluegrass: supremely controlled, easy-going, easy-flowing and unassumingly virtuosic.”
David Kidman - FATEA Magazine
“When the acoustic roots world lost Doc Watson in 2012, we lost a bridge to the past. Through Doc Watson, if we were listening, we could travel through the hills of time to the post-Civil War era and a time when mountain traditions and lifestyle was much more than an affection. Through his family history, Watson could take us to Tom Dula and generations shaped by Child ballads before they were collected and such-identified. Similar thoughts entered me wee noggin as I listened to this exceptional album from Greg Blake ... To steal a phrase, there are ancient tones living in these songs.”
Donald - Fervor Coulee
“I have to say, this is one of the best new bluegrass records I’ve heard this year (and believe me, I’ve listened to a great deal of bluegrass). This is bluegrass in its pure, simple, and best form. Bluegrass lovers will love this album! Check it out!”
Liz Austin - For the Country Record
“I have been hosting a live Bluegrass show on WTUF in Thomasville, GA for the past 20 years ... I received a copy of Songs of Heart & Home this past week and want you to know how much I appreciate the efforts you have put forth on this cd -- true ... real heartfelt bluegrass! Your take on DREAMING OF A LITTLE CABIN is among the best I have ever heard! When I introduced the song on Saturday, I said, "people often ask me why I love Bluegrass music so much ... well, here's why ... just listen to this!" About 15 minutes after I played it, I got a call from Valdosta, GA. A gentleman was in tears as he told me how much that song had moved him!”
Len Robinson - WTUF Radio - wtufradio.com
“It's no small thing that Greg Blake was able to gather some of the best musicians and vocalists in bluegrass to join him on his debut solo album. A big man with an even bigger heart, he brings an uplifting joy to the music he knows and loves. Unfettered by genre divisions and unconstrained by tradition, he just follows his heart to find the deep mountain roots of the music, infusing everything he sings with a powerful, soaring spirit.”
Devon Leger - Hearth Music Blog
“Greg is one of Colorado's best male singers for bluegrass ... he has this awesome energy that transfers into his music (and) this album captures that ... every song is fantastic - good hard-driving bluegrass from good people!”
“I was sitting at home reviewing a number of CDs sent in to me for airplay on my show at PBSFM. Most were "ho hum" until I came to yours which had me sitting up in rapt attention! It really is a great album. Your singing is outstanding and, of course, you have some great musicians accompanying you. Excellent choice of songs and arrangements and top recording values. I can't wait to share it with my listeners.”
Jan Dale - "Southern Style", on Tuesdays, 1-3pm (PBS FM-106.7)
“This is classic Blake. He ... has brought all his influences and experiences to bear on a project that is musical genius. There's not a bad tune on the entire release. Highly recommended”
"I have heard the tracks for Greg's forthcoming recording and it more than peaked my interest in hearing the finished product - I have to hear it when completed! Greg's performance is just great - his singing and playing is spot on and I know his fans will be delighted to hear this new release."
Greg Cahill - Grammy winning former President, IBMA, and band leader of Special Consensus
“W. Virginia singer Greg Blake's soaring tenor cut through the dirty brick walls of The Pour House (an official IBMA showcase venue) in Raleigh. (He) has a new solo album coming out which I got a sneak peek of and it’s just beautiful. Powerful Appalachian vocals and masterful bluegrass combine in his music and I can’t wait for it to be out officially.”
Hearth Music - No Depression
“Blake’s vocals ring loud and clear, and he must be on my top list of bluegrass singers.”
Gina Andreucci - The Steam Powered Preservation Society Blog
“Greg’s guitar solos are tasteful and fit the feel of the song. When the tune is fast, furious, and complex, he is able to provide a solo that fits the feel and groove of the tune. When the tune is simple and the melody sparse, he provides a solo that is congruent with the tune. While many guitar players that I hear in bluegrass seem to want to try to fill every solo with complexity and flash, Greg is content in laying back and simplifying when the song calls for it. To me, this is the mark of a great player. His solos don’t scream, “Hey, look at me!” His solos appropriately support the band and the song.”
Dan Miller - Flatpicking Guitar Magazine