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It's one of the more endearing images of Americana: two guys sitting on a couple of cane-backed chairs, leisurely picking acoustic flat top guitars, sharing songs, trading licks and a few laughs as well.

This is the way Norman Blake and Tony Rice envisioned it, anyway, except that these guys play some of the best licks ever made on some of the best guitars ever made.

"Blake and I are devotees of tone," says Rice. "We have these old Martin Dreadnaught guitars that were built in the 1930s, back when that company really cared about what their product sounded like."

From there, says Rice, the only trick is putting their fingers on the right string at the right time, and the two are well-known for doing that.

Norman Blake is the drawling north Georgian who has graced the albums of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with solid, melodic lead work and who has knocked out a few dozen tunes that have found their way into song lists of many folk and bluegrass artists.

Tony Rice, the stylistic guru of the modern acoustic style, whose soaring bluegrass and jazz-based solos have compelled many a guitar player to burn midnight oil to learn, is a dozen years younger than Blake, whom he considers his mentor.

"The guy is absolutely one of the greatest natural guitar players there has ever been," Rice says. "Playing with him is a chance for me to re-charge, to re-discover things I've forgotten."

Yet while their guitar styles are decidedly disparate in many ways, both share a good deal of common ground.

"I think we make stylistic shifts toward each other," says Rice. "I can hear his rhythm and play to it, and he will do the same for me."

The Blake-Rice combination has been an occasional act for about 10 years now, ever since the two were asked to conduct a workshop lecture at a bluegrass festival.

So successful were their first fews shows that the two went on to record a pair of albums, the second of which was voted Recorded Event Of The Year by the members of the International Bluegrass Music Association.

When schedules permit them to take time from their own musical pursuits, the two take on a handful of dates.

"We're hopefully going to play a bit more this winter," says Rice, who is on an extended hiatus to mend his voice from an ailment. "I've got some new stuff to try out on him, and I can't wait to hear what he has for me."

MUSIC PREVIEW

At a glance: Norman Blake and Tony Rice in concert 8 p.m. today at the Players Of Sarasota, 838 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $14.50. For information, call (outside Sarasota) (813) 365-2494.

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