If you have read about Ran Blake but do not know his music, Driftwoods is a good place to discover him. In contrast to Blake’s previous recording, All That is Tied (which was his 35th and which contained his own jagged, austere compositions), Driftwoods “salutes his favorite singers.” When he plays solo piano versions of songs like “Unforgettable” and “You Are My Sunshine,” his radicalism becomes more approachable. He still sounds jagged and austere, but there is satisfaction and even amusement in knowing you are never going to hear quirkier interpretations of “Dancing in The Dark” and “I Loves You, Porgy.” Blake sculpts them with painfully slow deliberation, in contours distorted by repositioned accents and incongruous chords and sequences and “wrong” notes that clang and linger, sustain pedal down.
Film noir has been a deep influence on Blake’s life and art. Driftwoods, with the exception of Quincy Jones’ “Pawnbroker,” presents no explicit examples of film noir music, yet it is profoundly cinematic. Even the Hank Williams tribute, “Lost Highway,” needs a film: Desolate, isolated notes hang in the air, ominous silences between them. Blake thinks, not in linear narrative, but in slow pans, in edits that juxtapose images. Through halting existential choices, Blake translates his dark inner movie into music.