Robert Sarazin Blake is in this singer/songwriter thing for the long haul. Some people become themselves, early on. Blake first stepped onstage at Seattle’s Folklife festival when he was 15. In the 12 years since then he’s been living the story of his music: a suitcase, a cabin in town for winter, and a guitar full of stories to share. He tells the kind of song that you hear on the radio during a late drive home: some sweet gruff voice out of nowhere singing to the still spot in your heart, the kind of song you turn up and sit in the car to finish, letting it all sink in.

Blake isn’t out of nowhere - he’s got many homes, but his cabin is in this town in the winter. You can feel it in his music; glimpses of Bellingham nestled in alongside the Dublin pubs and Hackensack bars that populate his newest release on CD and LP, still kissing last night’s smoke stained lips.

Blake has the bittersweet tongue of an Irish bard. He plays the jester some with Bellingham’s High, Wide, and Handsome Band, and he does the poet’s work of protest. He’s honed his political voice on issues close to home, and last year’s split album with Erik Petersen, Bellingham and Philadelphia, offers listeners the taste of resistance culture in these two places.

It’s love songs, mostly, this time around. No one album explains anybody, he believes, and still kissing last night’s smoke stained lips is its own thing, with beds in its corners, bicycles in the driveway, and sun coming through the trees. The images are immanent - filled with the moment before and the moment after - a collection of them lingering like smoke in the meandering channels of memory.

Blake recorded the album this winter with an ensemble cast of players: Mark Huber on old-world harmonica, the cloudy morning front porch fiddle of Chris Glass, Jeff Gray of upright bass, Mike Grigoni up from Seattle on dobro, with Amy Blaschke chiming in sweet and eerie.

It’s coming out through Art of the Underground, a label in Buffalo, NY that distributes hip-hop, hardcore, and Robert Blake’s particular breed of folk music. “My music is not fun”, says Robert - reclining on the back deck in the sun - “It’s for people who are affectionados of wordy folk singing”. He knows that his audience is out there, and for years now he’s been going on the road to find them.

This old-school folksinger ethic is building him safe harbor and an audience base of Blake affectionados in all sorts of places. He begins his fifth national tour at the end of this month, heading east by bus and train through Milwaukee towards Philadelphia, on his way to Ireland for a three-week leg of the tour. His suitcase and guitar will take him through spring, and he’ll be back in Bellingham for a summer of High, Wide, and Handsome dancing songs.

The CD release of still kissing last night’s smoke stained lips is March 21st, the night before he leaves, at 8pm at Idiom Theatre. Five bucks or the cost of a CD will get you in the door. He’s also doing a stint as master of ceremonies for the noon rally and March Against Fear on March 20th at Maritime Heritage Park.

If you’re going to be a folksinger in this age of irony and flash-pan marketing, you’ve got to put your whole fierce heart into it. The culture of resistance is alive and kicking, and under all these layers of empty fame there are people who are living with their art on a daily basis. Blake’s voice will remind you of that, shooting through the dark late silence to call your own fierce heart awake.

Written by Jodie Buller for The Northwest Sun Published March 4th, 2004