Originally there were two Rory Blocks, with her recordings attributable to one or the other. There was the acoustic singer-songwriter, with her sensitive but unflinching accounts of her often harrowing experiences and the effect they had on her. And there was the country blues woman, with her uncompromising singing, consummate slide guitar and respectful nods to the tradition from virtually the start of the blues.
Tracks 1-5 and 10-14 are all originals, separated by songs you might know by Charlie Patton (“High Water Everywhere”), Muddy Waters (“I Be Bound”, closely related to “Can’t Be Satisfied”), Robert Johnson (“Stones In My Passway”) and Son House (“Dry Spell House”). I thought I knew what to expect – a set of Rory No 1’s own well crafted songs, Rory No 2’s testimony to the greats, then back to No 1 for a few more. Although that is essentially what you get, one Rory now changes imperceptibly into the other. The distinction between them is no longer obvious. Anyone who knew none of the songs would find it difficult to say which are the classics and which hers (the occasional reference to cellphones and the like apart).
What has happened is osmosis. Like John Fahey’s best work, Block has so assimilated the blues that even her original work sounds as if it dates back seventy years, as if she is taking her own place in the pantheon of blues originals.
A word of warning: only read the sleevenotes if you share Rory Block’s passion for dogs, which also permeates one song addressed to the four that she owns. You might wind up wishing you were one of them.
This, released in February 2005, was Rory’s second album for Telarc and is completely solo. Although she is sometimes overdubbed, everything you hear is her. The last track “Unprecedented Quiet” is instrumental, and serves as a winding down, a sigh after the intensity and power of what has gone before.
She and Rob Davis got a uniformly excellent sound throughout and, of all Rory’s albums, this is the one I have enjoyed most. That’s a strong recommendation.