Singer-songwriter Sarazin Blake has studied at the foot of the masters | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Singer-songwriter Sarazin Blake has studied at the foot of the masters

Singer-songwriter Sarazin Blake has studied at the foot of the masters
Courtesy of Danielle Kilroy
The smile your beard forced out: Sarazin Blake

For an aspiring performer, it must be a bummer to have your name stripped from you by cruel circumstance. Such was the case with Bellingham, Wash., singer-songwriter Robert Blake, whose identity was broadsided by the Hollywood court case of the famed Baretta actor. Not wanting to be mistaken for an alleged wife-killer, he shifted his middle name, Sarazin, to the front, and kept on churning out the same earthy, itinerant folk stylings he'd been crafting since his 1997 debut album, Another Irrelevant Year.

After other releases with the High, Wide and Handsome Band, and with Philly folk-punk act Mischief Brew, Blake's latest exhalation is the self-produced The Air Your Lungs Forced Out. The album was recorded in one take in the studio, with a four-piece band gathered closely together.

What's most noticeable about the album, besides the ubiquitous pedal-steel guitar lending a calming atmosphere to the proceedings, is Blake's strong, throaty baritone. He's studied at the foot of the masters -- Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Greg Brown -- and the intensity shows, both in his picturesque wordsmithing and occasional political bent. "Mid-Term Elections," for example, deconstructs the invasion of Iraq: "There's oil in the Caspian Sea and we want to get it out / and so does China, that's what this is all about."

As for Blake's guitar style, his self-appointed description of "Richie Havens fast-strumming with a heavy-handed rhythmic approach, mixed with a noise/jazz improv aspect" rings generally true, but his appeal is more wide-ranging than that would indicate. With such musical signposts and topical relevance, plus his skill as a folk-festival organizer back in his hometown, you'd think Blake might have a shot at breaking into the serious roots-music circuit.

Unfortunately, he's been stymied by staid promoters who've called him "too wild" for their elderly audiences. And while the punk scene has been quite accepting, more often than not, Black gets misbilled on DIY shows with several hardcore bands. However he accomplishes it, though, Blake is committed to ultimately reconciling the two sides of his persona. "I'm immersed in the folk tradition, the ballads and such," he says, "but I mix that with the punk-rock essence that surrounded me as I grew musically."


Sarazin Blake with Jenn Gooch and Joy Toujours. 7 p.m. Tue., April 21. Morning Glory Coffeehouse, 1806 Chislett St., Morningside. $5. 412-450-1050 or

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