Rory Block is one of the finest guitarists and singers of our time. With a string of extraordinary recordings for Rounder over the past 20 years, she's pretty much been a woman who could do no harm for these ears. I'm Every Woman was envisioned partially as a tribute to classic r&b, an experiment that focused on her vocals and left the guitar at home in the closet. It is an experiment that meets with mixed results.
Chaka Khan's great "I'm Every Woman" serves as the opener. Unquestionably Block's gorgeous voice shines through, as was the intention. Perhaps the difficulty for my ear is making the transition. This is a song that was done perfectly the first time. It ain't broke. Curtis Mayfield's "I'm A Fool For You" sounds strained. Sure she has a great voice, but a stretch is a stretch. Al Green's "Tired Of Being Alone" works better, but here's another case of a song being done perfectly the first time through. Songs that are inextricably linked to a voice often take on the hue of lounge singing in anyone else's throat, regardless of how capable that throat may be. Ditto Teddy Pendergrass's "Love TKO" and her and Keb Mo's version of Marvin and Tammi's "Ain't Nothin' Like The Real Thing" (my thoughts exactly!). On the plus side, though, "Hold On/Change Is Coming," originally recorded by Sounds of Blackness, is very well done.
This is not to suggest that this is a throw-away. Rory Block would have to work pretty hard to make an album that was completely disagreeable. Of 14 tunes here (really 12, as the acoustic guitar bookends are less than two minutes totaled), only 5 qualify as poor choices. Her duet with Gaye Adegbalola (of Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women), is a traditional piece that truly captures was is pristine in Rory Block's singing. This is her element. Pigeoholes are for the birds, I know, but, playing to your strengths is surely not a bad thing. The gorgeous acoustic work of "Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down," sung in duet with her son Jordan, is as good as Block has ever sounded. It's a first-degree chill-sender. And her version of "Rock Island Line," with Annie Raines and Paul Rishell harkens back to her folk roots. She didn't just come up hanging out with the Reverend Gary Davis. Ms. Block's early years were at that wonderful time when everything was called 'folk' music, jug bands to gospel to blues. It's no wonder that she'd cover a Leadbelly tune made famous by the Weavers. These are her roots. The original "Talkin' 'Bout My Man" is a beautiful ballad that best accomplishes her goal of bringing something new to classic soul. Rather than attempting to re-write classics, this is almost an attempt (successful) to write one of her own. It has elements of gospel and radio-ready soulfulness. on the right playlists it could crossover.
Kelly Jo Phelps early Dylan-ish vocals compliment Block's own on the transcendent "Pretty Polly." Her take on the Albert King hit "I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home" serves as the closer. It's an interesting tune in the hands of Rory Block, given that her music has generally been about positive messages. It sure does sound good, though.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Mark E. Gallo, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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