Rory Block,
From the Dust
(Telarc, 2005)

I've followed Rory Block's career for a good many years now, and have reviewed some of her previous albums. Block is one of those true rarities, a white girl who really knows how to sing and play the blues, She's immersed herself in the Delta tradition, and has proven herself one of the funkiest blues guitarists and grittiest vocalists performing today. From the Dust is very much in the blues guitar tradition, from Block's 10 originals to the four-track block in the middle of songs by Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Son House and Robert Johnson. Still, I found this CD less satisfying than her previous ones.

The main problem is the choice that Block has made throughout to speak many lines rather than sing them, a strategy that just doesn't work the way it should. For example, on "The Gate" (one of the first four tracks influenced strongly by gospel music), the spoken lyrics seem less than authentic, and Block seems to be trying too hard to create the mood. Even the spoken segments near the end of "Big as Texas" sound too studied. We hear her acting rather than feeling, and it tends to sound artificial.

When she sticks to singing, as in the four songs by early blues artists, her work is impeccable, but then along comes "Fargo Baby," with its spoken dialogue undercutting the musicality throughout. As if that's not enough, "Runaway Dog" follows, with its entire first minute (and much of what follows) being taken up by Block calling for and talking baby talk to her dogs. Even the most rabid (no pun intended) Block fan won't set the CD player to repeat mode on this track. "Take a Train" is an improvement in that the lines are sung rather than spoken, but it's musically uninspiring and uninspired. "Remember," an overtly Christian paean, works better since it's primarily sung, and "Unprecedented Quiet," which closes the CD, is a distinctive instrumental.

I never thought I'd say a Rory Block album lacked authenticity, but this one does. It isn't helped by the odd art design, which has several shots of Block wearing a black bustier and lounging languidly in the back seat of an SUV, more suggestive of a MILF Cruiser photo series than of a gospel-tinged blues album. I'm not saying that Block should sing only delta blues and dress in coveralls, but she, like any artist, is best served when playing to her strengths. This album takes a step ahead in experimentation, but a step back in follow-through.

by Chet Williamson
Rambles.NET
19 November 2005



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