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Rory Block Rev

Rory Block Rev

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Published by: api-27252976 on Oct 17, 2008
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page 1 of 3
rory block: from the dust
telarc records;
cd 83614
review by michael cala

rory block lived in new york\u2019s greenwich village during the folk revival of the 1960s. by age 14, she had
already been playing folk guitar for six years and was a regular at the legendary folk music jams once held
in and around the washington square park fountain.

in addition to studying with gary davis in her teens, block was lucky enough to have met a number of her country blues idols, including son house, for whom she once performed willie brown\u2019s \u201cfuture blues\u201d to the bluesman\u2019s astonishment. she also met and performed with skip james and fred mcdowell and mississippi john hurt.

at 15, her parents divorced. block left home for california and began a musical road trip
west that ultimately led back to new york city and her first album in 1981, high heel
blues, on rounder records.
in 2003, the busy four-time handy award winner released a solo cd on telarc (last fair
deal); less than a year later, she collaborated with maria muldaur and eric bibb on a
gospel-inflected and often genuinely moving cd titled sisters and brothers.
given her superbly consistent output of country blues over the past quarter century,fro m
the dust \u2013 her 18th solo album -- appears at first glance simply another fine set of

recordings from a riveting performer who has never made a bad or boring album.
however, she\u2019s also a woman whose life has been cast down by tragedy and lifted back up
through music.

close listening to this cd reveals a more personal set of songs than we\u2019re used to from rory block. while she includes a quartet of classic country blues \u2013 including \u201chigh water,\u201d \u201cdry spell blues,\u201d \u201cstones in my passway\u201d and \u201ci be bound,\u201d -- the block-composed lead track and title song, \u201cfrom the dust,\u201d sounds almost like an apologia pro sua vita, an explication of why the singer has lived the blues life and why she\u2019d done the things she\u2019s done.

the track sounds like a musical interpretation of something block writes about eloquently in her online
autobiography, something that many white blues performers have taken to heart:
rory block:

\u201cmany people ask me why a fourteen year old white girl from new york city felt so deeply and
personally connected to the music of the black rural south from another era\u2026 the music resonated
inside me, felt real, beautiful, spoke to what was in my heart, moved my soul. it cried out as i cried
out, it wept when i wept, it haunted and rolled and wandered as i did.\u201d

when she sings, \u201cfrom the dust we were born\u2026and when he made us/he made strong emotion/and he
breathed into each body a soul\u2026\u201d it\u2019s block\u2019s humanism, honed by experience, telling us it doesn\u2019t matter
where we were born, or from what nationality \u2013 the blueswill creep up on us whenever we're reminded of
life\u2019s short and transitory nature.

in her case, the death of her then-20-year-old son, thiele, in an automobile accident in 1986, is one such
reminder. she sings about this trauma explicitly in \u201cremember,\u201d a track that also reminds us that the
tragedies of others are often greater than our own.

one pleasant surprise is the inclusion of block\u2019s speaking voice on several tracks, including the spoken
bridge in \u201cfrom the dust.\u201d hearing her naturally northeast-inflected speech is akin to taking a quick peek
behind the wizard\u2019s curtain; in some sense, this revelation brings the listener that much closer to the

\u201cthe gate,\u201d features background vocal overdubs by block and its gospel sound strongly suggests her
recent collaboration with muldaur and bibb. when you start adding up the pieces, it appears that block is a
devoutly religious person, or perhaps a committed secular humanist. either way, she\u2019s telling us she\u2019s
found what passes for universal understanding. some call it religion; i\u2019d wager that block calls it simply,

the blues.
from the cd\u2019s dedication, we also learn that rory block is a serious \u201cdog person\u201d and rescuer. she\u2019s so crazy
about dogs that she\u2019s dedicated from the dust to all dogs, and especially her own quartet of canines:
sophie, chester, rangerand beau, all of whom she addresses by name in \u201crunaway dog,\u201d
another block composition.

while there is no record of son house or fred mcdowell having performed a similar song about a favorite domestic animal, keep in mind that block has taken her beloved country blues and molded it to her own unique experience \u2013 one that includes dogs and family dissonance as much as tragedy and lost love. in addition, if it wasn\u2019t for block\u2019s utter dedication to country blues and her enormous talent, it\u2019s likely the form would become even more marginalized than it already is. recommendation: along with confessions of a

blues singer and roughly 16 other rory block cds, this recording should be in every blues
fan\u2019s collection. michael cala

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