When it comes to a tribute album, I believe the true measure of how good that album is, comes from it's ability to not just make you either a first time fan or a greater fan of that artist, but also it's ability to make you either a first time fan or a greater fan of the artist being tributed. In the case of Rory Block's new
release "Blues Walkin' Like A Man: A Tribute To Son House", both those criteria are met and to an exceptionally high standard.
Rory Block is regarded by the Blues Revue as "one of the greatest living acoustic blues artists," a statement that does not take long for you to
understand once you start listening to what might surely be one of the highest notes of hear brilliant career.
Having met Son House at the age of 15, when she was considered a Greenwich Village guitar prodigy and playing with him shortly after, it became instilled in Rory the power of music and the power of the Blues. So impressed with Rory's playing of the song Future Blues, he was asking others, "Where did she learn to play like this?"
Son House passed away in 1988, but his legendary songs remained to continue influencing subsequent generations through the many tributes and covers from those that new and loved him. Now with "Blues Walkin' Like A Man: A Tribute To Son House", Rory continues Son House's legacy by bringing
her immense knowledge and expertise of the Acoustic Guitar, along with a voice that can rival any of her peers, to a grateful audience of old and new fans.
Joining Rory on this 13 Track Album, was her dear friend John Sebastian, from the Lovin Spoonful, who played his harmonica on 3 Tracks.
"Blues Walkin' Like A Man: A Tribute To Son House" has it all. From Preachin' Blues to Death Letter, from Grinnin' In Your Face to Jinx Blues. This album has all that was the essence of Son House and is a must listen for not only those which were fans of Son House, but also any out there that are true fans of Acoustic Blues.
You will truly not see it done much better then the way Rory Block plays it.
Review by John Vermilyea (Blues Underground Network)
My Black Mama (4:25)
Downhearted Blues (4:39)
Preachin' Blues (3:28)
Jinx Blues (4:25)
Dry Spell Blues (3:58)
Shetland Pony Blues (3:33)
Death Letter (4:25)
County Farm Blues (3:31)
Grinnin' In Your Face (2:09)
Low Down Dirty Dog Blues (4:33)
Depot Blues (3:09)
Government Fleet Blues (7:03)
I Want To Go Home On The Morning Train (4:01)
About Rory Block
Rory Block was 15 years old when she met Son House. Two improbable people. A young teenaged Greenwich Village guitar prodigy and an older black man, 62, who had recorded nine of the most powerful blues pieces ever for the Paramount label in 1930.
Years later, she recalled the moment: "Backstage at the Village Gate in 1965 Son House virtually radiated a golden light. As I watched him perform, rolling his head back, slamming the strings and almost choking on the intensity, I learned a deep lesson about the power of the music which became an inseparable part of me."
"Later I had a chance to play for him. I will never forget his amazement as I played Willie Brown's Future Blues. He was asking people "Where did she learn to play like this?"
"He was beautiful looking; smooth skin, tall and handsome, his face filled with a million stories of the music, a life lived in hardship and cloaked in mystery."
Now, more than 40 years later, the guitarist has paid Son House an ultimate tribute: A collection of 13 songs associated with the legendary blues singer titled "Blues Walkin' Like a Man." The album is being released September 30 on Stony Plain, the international roots music label based in Edmonton, Alberta.
Rory Block's life-long involvement with the blues has reached a new high point with this release.
With encouragement and support from Dick Waterman, who helped discover Son House and managed him until the singer died in 1988, she cut 13 tracks, mostly with her own solo acoustic guitar, and three with the support of one of her oldest friends, The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, on harmonica.
Revered songs like Preachin' Blues, Death Letter, Grinnin' in Your Face and Jinx Blues are loaded with the power — vocally and instrumentally — that marked Son House's recorded repertoire and live performances.
Rory Block's first recordings (under the pseudonym Sunshine Kate) were made for Elektra Records; she didn't record again until 1975, when she recorded for RCA Victor and Chrysalis before signing to Rounder Records, for whom she cut more than a dozen albums. She has also recorded for a number of other labels, in between endless tour schedules that have only recently begun to slow down.
Along the way, she has won five W.C. Handy Awards (now known simply as Blues Awards) from the Blues Foundation, two for "Traditional Blues Female Artist," and three for "Acoustic Blues Album of the Year," the most recent just last year. She's earned a gold record in Holland, and toured from one end of the United States to the other end of Canada, not to mention Poland and Norway and Italy and a half a dozen more European countries.
Everywhere she plays, audiences are touched by the depth of her commitment to her music; Critical plaudits follow the applause: The New York Times put it plainly enough: "Her playing is perfect, her singing otherworldly as she wrestles with ghosts, shadows and legends." And Guitar Extra, a publication that knows what it speaks about, added: "Rory Block has become one of the world's most important preservers of the roots of American music. She has become a national treasure in the form of an uncompromising mature blues artist."
And her peers echo the praise; Bonnie Raitt put it this way: "Rory has been an inspiration to me since we started out years ago. Her guitar playing, singing and songwriting are some of the most soulful in traditional and modern blues."
And Dick Waterman, listening to the test pressings of the new record, summed it up: "She is a true messenger for the blues; an artist who can bring this music to people — perhaps in the same way that Mr. House brought it to Robert Johnson and countless others."
Rory Block's own watchwords are simple: "Life is short, and fragile, and I know we all have a mission. Don't forget that it is a great privilege to be in this miraculous place, and that if you're here, you're chosen."