For the past fifteen years, Ron Block has been the spiritual touchstone of Alison Krauss and Union Station, contributing sterling musicianship on banjo, guitar and vocals. Block’s first solo album, Faraway Land (Rounder, 2001), met with great critical acclaim and raised the bar for Block as an artist for his Rounder Records follow-up, DoorWay. Boasting an all-star lineup featuring Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Barry Bales, Adam Steffey, Stuart Duncan, Viktor Krauss, Suzanne and Sidney Cox, Andy Hubbard (Little Big Town) and Homer, Lisa, and Lori Forbes, among others, DoorWay is a set of intensely moving and personal songs that Block self-produced and wrote…a beautiful and rewarding glimpse inside the human heart.
Alison Krauss and Union Station have recorded 10 of Block’s songs since 1992, including the beautiful “In the Palm of Your Hand” from the Alison Krauss and the Cox Family album (I Know Who Holds Tomorrow) and “A Living Prayer” from Lonely Runs Both Ways, which received a 2006 Gospel Music Association Dove award for the Bluegrass Song of the Year. Block has also recorded with Susan Ashton, Vince Gill, the Cox Family, Clint Black, Bill Frisell, Fernando Ortega, Billy Dean, Michael Johnson, Dolly Parton, and most recently Brad Paisley. In addition to his production of DoorWay, Block is currently producing a new recording for Rounder by young mandolin wizard, Sierra Hull. His songs have also been performed by Rhonda Vincent (You’re In My Heart), Randy Travis (Which Way Will You Choose), Dan Tyminski (Be Assured), Michael W. Smith, the Cox Family and the Forbes Family, whose Block-produced In the Shadow of Your Wings is a classic of contemporary bluegrass gospel.
Tests of faith and flights of fancy were the inspirations behind Block’s work on DoorWay. Everything about the album, Block says, from the artwork to all of the songs, is based on the idea of the faith-choice. “Am I going to rely on what God says or will I live according to what I see, feel, think, hear, and experience? Most often this is presented to us as an either-or. Step off the edge in faith, or continue on, stumbling through the desert. Everything is driven by our seeing, by whether or not we make the leap of faith and see with God’s vision.”
Another driving force behind DoorWay is C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. A Narnia fan since the age of eight, Block re-reads the books periodically to recapture the feelings they have inspired throughout his life. He goes on to say “The image of a doorway in a field popped into my head, and I typed out the lyrics in probably fifteen minutes with only minor changes later. At the time I didn’t think where the image came from, but after the fact I realized that two of the Narnia books had magical doorways in them and there are several instances of similar portals to other worlds in George Macdonald’s work as well.” For Block’s purposes, Pauline Baynes’ original Narnia illustrations were perfect “but I wanted the doorway in the record artwork to be more castle-ish, more ancient looking, because the ‘way of escape’ in every temptation and situation has been prepared for us since the foundation of the world,” he says. “We just walk through in faith, but the doorways have always been there, waiting for our choice.”
Block has come to realize that his calling is not only to play with Alison Krauss and Union Station, but also to make music on his own to inspire and move people. “When God calls us to something, he enables us to do it. That takes the pressure off of my humanity to perform,” he says. “In trusting that enabling, I’m beginning to be my real musical self.” Block did what the songs demanded, letting the ideas flow freely and dictate their own path. “I was originally trying to write with more of a bluegrass center, but I kept coming up with these other types of songs,” he muses. “All in all, the core of it is still very acoustic: guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, fiddle.”
And then there was Alison…Alison Krauss that is, who appears on the title track of DoorWay (on harmony vocals) and “The Blackness of the Need” (on viola). “My production values, attention to detail, the minimalist approach to soloing, and attention to the lyrics all come from years of hammering out records in the studio with Alison Krauss and Union Station,” Block asserts. “Much of my lyrical content comes from my years in the band, from learning to deal with success, failure, joy, disappointment, enjoyment, doubt and fear. My time with this group has taught me to maintain a closeness with God. Without that closeness, life is constantly torn up and driven by natural inclinations, fears and desires, and the need for approval and acceptance.” He concludes “The last fifteen years in the band have shown me those deep inner needs in myself, revealing also the Answer to those needs Jesus Christ Himself at the root and center of my being. That process has filled and deepened the lyrics I write.”
With collaboration from old friends and bandmates, Barry Bales (bass), Dan Tyminski (guitar), Jerry Douglas (Dobro and lap steel), and Adam Steffey (mandolin), Block created the base of this rich, textured effort to make room for the uplifting contributions of his all-star cast. “I’m glad to have some of the best musicians in acoustic music as my good friends,” adds Block.
DoorWay permeates the being of the listener with a blend of the best in bluegrass and adult contemporary music, with its complex instrumentation and warm, passionate vocals. Tracks like “Above The Line” work on many levels, with a driving beat and meaningful lyric, moving your feet and your brain at the same time. Make no mistake about it, that is Block’s intent. “We’re to be relevant to the world by being honest and transparent, continually making the choice to trust God no matter what the circumstance. If we’re doing that, the music we make will affect the listener in a deep and powerful way.”