For much of the past 15 years, Ron Block was constantly playing banjo and guitar in an ensemble — in this case, backing famed bluegrass singer Alison Krauss in the band Union Station. But at the beginning of this century, Block started feeling the need to share his own voice, first with his 2001 album, Faraway Land, and now with last month’s release of DoorWay.
“I’ve felt a divine foot on my behind — just feeling like I’m supposed to be getting some more songs out there for whoever will listen to them — songs that instruct and encourage people to have a deeper relationship with Christ,” Block says.
This may stem from Block’s adolescence, which was marked with feelings of low self-worth. “But when I began playing music in the late ’70s, music became a way for me to feel good about myself,” he says. “I was a Christian — been a Christian since I was a kid. But I found this other way to get a sense of security and worth and meaning.”
And when he joined Union Station, “that feeling reached its height because it was the band [I] wanted to play in. But the trouble with a source of self-worth that is rooted in this world is that everything in this world fluctuates.”
A couple years after joining Union Station, Block hit his emotional nadir.
“I went from feeling great to feeling terrible,” he says. “I had to find some answers.”
He found them in the Bible.
“They were centered in what God says about his people,” Block says. “I took what he says personally, and it ended up reprogramming what I think. Life itself has brought me many opportunities where I need to trust God and trust his life in me, or else. The alternative is too unpleasant, and it’s a life driven by ambition, fear and all those non-productive ways of living.”
Writing music for himself also gives Block the chance to create sounds considered outside Union Station’s sonic purview. Many of the tracks comprising DoorWay fit right in the adult contemporary subset, even though Block never set out to do that.
The song “Above the Line,” for instance, was supposed to have a “newgrassy” vibe, complete with banjo. But “it just sounded stupid,” Block says. “It needed another treatment. Ultimately, the lyrics determined the kind of treatment each song received.”
That doesn’t mean Block is breaking roots with the band that put him on the map. Many Union Station members, including Krauss herself, guest on DoorWay. The group is performing one of the CD’s songs, “Along the Way,” during its summer tour, which includes a stop July 14 at The Lawn.
“I love all those guys, and it’s great to have some of the best musicians in acoustic music be friends of mine, and be willing to play on my record,” Block says of his bandmates.
It’s not as if Block recently started writing music. Krauss and Union Station have recorded 10 of his compositions. One, “A Living Prayer,” won Bluegrass Song of the Year in 2006 from the Gospel Music Association. Musicians like Randy Travis and Michael W. Smith have performed other Block-penned tunes.
“I love hearing other people do my songs,” he says. “My favorite is when Alison sings the songs I write. She does an amazing job. It’s just perfect. It doesn’t make me ever want to sing them again, though.”