Everything that I have ever read about Rory Block identifies her as an inspiration and a legend in traditional acoustic blues. As she closes in on age fifty, Rory Block continues to inspire blues artists, young and old, with her incredible grasp of the traditional styles of blues created by Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and, her mentor, Son House. It is no surprise that in what is perceived as the "male world" of Delta Blues, Block has labored long and hard to gain acceptance in the genre. Despite the critical acclaim for her work, she did not achieve the popularity of some of her fellow musicians as quickly, perhaps because "women just don't play that kind of music." This belief is painted in Block's autobiographical piece, "Life Song," on her latest CD Confessions of a Blues Singer, when she proclaims, "I shared the stage with Fred McDowell, I was his biggest fan, Someone jumped up shouting, "She plays just like a man."
Rory Block has come a long way since the skeptics told her that she was unmarketable; winning back to back W.C. Handy Awards for Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year in 1997 and 1998. The accolades continue to come from everywhere and everyone. Bonnie Raitt, John Sebastian, Taj Mahal, John Hammond and many other giants of the music business, give her high praise. No one puts it any better than Taj Mahal when he states, "She's very simply the best there is."
According to Rory Block, Confessions of a Blues Singer was the direct result of a dream when she woke with the slide riff from Charlie Patton's "Bo Weevil Blues" running through her head. As she states in the liner notes, it was at that moment that she knew she had to record that song and some of the other classics penned by the likes of Robert Johnson, Furry Lewis, Bukka White and Blind Willie McTell. With nine excellent covers of classic acoustic blues pieces and three new original songs, Confessions of a Blues Singer (her 13th on the Rounder label) has quickly become one of my favorite Rory Block recordings.
Confessions of a Blues Singer is full of highlights and totally devoid of lowlights. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every song on the CD. With the assistance of Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar (she borrowed Roy Rogers' guitar), Robert Johnson's, "Ramblin' On My Mind" is an excellent follow-up to the opening interpretation of another Robert Johnson tune, "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day." On Bukka White's, "I Am In A Heavenly Way," Block performs a duet with her son, Jordan, who also provides some very nice piano on "Long Way From Home," a song by Louise Johnson.
Of the three originals on the CD, "Life Song," is far and away my favorite. The emotion literally pours from Block's voice as she tells the story of her life and of the development of her musical career. Every time I have listened to this song, it has literally brought tears to my eyes hearing about Rory's emotional ups and downs, her influences, her losses and her triumphs. Basically, I love this song. This in no way is meant to take away from the other two originals. "Mother Marian" is a song about the late Marian Van Ness. The CD is dedicated to Ms. Van Ness and eloquently tells about Marian's life and the close relationship that developed between her and Rory until she passed away in 1997. The third original, "Silver Slide Moan," is only 37 seconds long but serves as a nice prelude to "Mother Marian."
All in all, this is one great CD. Block's interpretation of the cover tunes is excellent and the originals are pure emotion for the listener. If you want a real ride, log on to Rory Block's web page and read the section called "My Life." Then listen to the last two songs on the CD, "Mother Marian" and "Life Song." If it doesn't make you cry, you got no heart. Regardless, get the CD, you will enjoy it; everyone I have recommended it to so far agrees with me.
*Reprinted from Cruzin' The Bluz; Santa Cruz, CA
This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.