Brian Blake, an award-winning songwriter based out of Memphis, Tennessee, is releasing his debut album, Book of Life, this Friday, November 18. Produced by Walt Wilkins and Ron Flynt and recorded in Austin, the album includes a number of songs about Blake’s family and their roots in the Liberty area.
“My intention with this album is to pay homage to my family and the place where my family has been for more than 175 years. It’s where I spent much of my youth, and it’s truly a special place to me,” Blake says.
From start to finish, Book of Life takes listeners on a journey – one that begins in the early 20th century and winds up in the present day. The songs on the album are woven together like a collection of short stories set to music, of which the songwriter says, “I come from a long line of storytellers, and this album is my contribution to that tradition.”
Book of Life opens with “Rice Field in the Distance,” which chronicles Blake’s great-grandparents, Charlie and Kate Blake of Devers, and their struggles to raise a large family during the Great Depression.
“Rose Marie” is about his grandparents, Joe and Rosie – both of whom were lifelong members of the Liberty community — and is set during World War II, when Joe served in the Navy as a surgeon’s assistant aboard the USS Solace. Joe went on to local and regional fame as the namesake of the Joe Blake and His Pals barbeque catering crew. Based in Liberty, Joe and his many Pals served their world championship-quality fare to thousands upon thousands of people over their 30 years of cooking.
Other songs set in Liberty include “The Ott Hotel,” about the infamous hotel and apartment house on Travis Street, just blocks from where Blake’s other great-grandparents, Harold and Bessie Wait, lived for decades, and “Move on J.D.”, about a Liberty-area World War II veteran named J.D. Lowe. That song garnered Blake the title of Songwriter of the Year in 2021 by the Memphis Songwriters Association.
“Move On J.D. is a song I’m very proud of, and I hope it causes people to reflect on how we can better support veterans with service-related disabilities – both seen and unseen,” Blake says.
The album closes with “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” in which Blake sings about the inevitable changes that come to many small towns and his and his family’s ever-shrinking ties to Liberty.
The album, which features a number of Austin’s top session musicians, is already receiving nationwide and international airplay and will be available on all major streaming platforms on the 18th. Walt Wilkins, who co-produced the album and is a well-known Texas songwriter, troubadour, and producer in Austin, says of the album and Blake, “Book of Life is a sterling collection of songs that is earthy and immediate, where you know the characters and care about them. Brian’s gift of storytelling is true and deep, with a wry, comfortable and literary bent, and it’s been a privilege and pleasure to work with him and these songs.”
Blake, who still has family in the Liberty area, is planning a number of performances in support of the album, including tour dates in Quitman, Galveston, Conroe, Livingston, and Austin in December. More tour dates are planned for 2023, including a performance in Liberty, if possible.
For more information about Brian Blake, the album Book of Life, or Blake’s upcoming tour schedule, visit www.brianblake.net.