Monday, October 23, 2006

Rory Block

People who know me or recall the radio show know that I am a big fan of Rory’s. I have traveled great distances to listen to her play and sing. There is always something larger going on at a Rory Block show than the playing and singing of an amazing talent. There always seems to be a hush over the room. We know we are getting pure, unfiltered, raw blues and heartfelt sincerity. Rory spins her tales of musical history and her experiences like she's talking to old friends. You are brought into the process and in a larger way her audience is welcomed into her heart. Her spirited playing and singing cross the realm of entertainment into a history lesson of the blues and type of revival meeting all at the same time. Rory takes her spirituality seriously but it’s not overbearing and love is a tiny word to express her playing, singing and camaraderie with her fans. Rory is a true champion of the blues. Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, Furry Lewis, Reverend Robert Wilkins, Reverend Gary Davis and Willie Brown are all founding fathers of the modern age of the blues and Rory distinguishes herself while interpreting their music and playing her own.

Rory has been at this a long time and after the usual mis-steps of the big, corporate money machine, music industry (notice how music comes after money in that description) Rory shed the bogus image of her first few albums and has since created a wide ranging catalogue of wonderful music. To get started I would purchase Best Blues and Originals off the Rounder label. Twenty songs with an amazing array of guest artists this CD pulls from her entire history up to its release date of 1987. Mama's Blues is another one of my favorites and came out in 1991. I think it's her most accessible disc of music to date but to be honest I have not heard them all. There are three other albums I would like to mention. First off Confession of a Blues Singer is very, very good released in 1988. It's a delta blues tour de' Force mixed with her own more lyrical and melodic tunes about her life. However, on track number four she lets her son Jordan do some unfortunate growling - if it wasn't for this cut - this would be my favorite Rory disc - my advise get the disc and program it to jump track four.

House of Hearts is something different from Rory. Instead of a delta blues laden effort this album is a softer, deeply contemplative effort written in the aftermath of a loss of a loved one. Rory attacks this effort with the same open and honest playing that punctuates her blues. It is a dark, misty affair but if you have the courage a trip well worth taking. It is this album that brought me to Rory and showed me the beauty and complexity of her as a person and an artist. Rock n' My Sock is a completely different vibe, fun and irreverent I really enjoy this album. When a Woman Get's The Blues is a wonderful effort that showcases her beautiful voice and delivers more of what the hardcore delta blues fan might expect. Finally, High Heeled Blues - I hated the title because it reflected poorly what was going on here with Rory and her music. The fact that she is a woman is irrelevant to her playing and I think the title is a bit misleading. Plus I've never seen Rory in heels unless you count cowboy boots. This is a great, great collection and a straight ahead blues effort. I was totally surprised the first time I listened. The first few cuts are sparse and reminds me of Hot Tuna's Acoustic Live Disc (with death don't have no mercy). Rory breaks out the barrel roll piano in one cut and then goes biblical with the Water is Wide. This is such a powerful rendition that it became the first Rory Block tune I ever played on my show. I tended towards the secular.

A note on that point: Religion is deeply personal in my book and organized religion has made a mockery of love and tolerance as it wages war to gain riches and power. Suffice to say I shied away from overtly religious tunes espousing one particular saint or savior over another. I like my religion emanating from within drawn from the myriad of examples and experiences that life has put forth both in thought and form. I don’t think it should be broadcasted. Religion is an internal journey of self discovery and no one else can tell you about it, describe it for you, or enhance your own experience. What works for you may not work for the other fellow. As individuals we must respect that and honor the journey of self discovery that each of us has to go through in this life. Religion is as deeply individual as the next person and up for interpretation based on point of view and imagination. Anything less is just parroting doctrine or blindly serving an agenda that may be extremely dangerous, power hungry, or self aggrandizing.

A digression like that although hardly relevant for most music reviews is essential for Rory Block. With Rory there is something larger going on here than just entertainment and hot licks. Rory is the real deal a flat out beautiful, singer, player and person. Her playing and singing and writing come from a true source. It has a multitude of experiences and an honest and essential appreciation of the traditions and struggles that have gone on that gave rise to those traditions. If you are lucky enough to have her visit your area get in the car, walk, bum a ride but get to see her and visit with her after the show. She is in my opinion an American icon a treasure on par with Mark Twain and deserves a Kennedy award and all the accolades we can heap on her. She's the best and it was an honor to play her music on the air!

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