Rory Block,
Last Fair Deal
(Telarc, 2003)

As we officially recognize 2003 as the "Year of the Blues," veteran artist Rory Block has devoted an entire career celebrating the deep roots and rich history of this treasured genre. Her latest release, Last Fair Deal, is a true testament to the artist's personal dedication in keeping the traditional blues sound alive and vibrant for future generations. With a distinctive collection of highly acclaimed recordings, this latest effort is her debut on the Telarc label.

Last Fair Deal is a showcase of traditional country blues, gospel standards and personal arrangements, stretching Block's creative boundaries. In the liner notes, she describes this new CD as a personal celebration for her beloved instrument and best friend, her guitar. The growth of this relationship has developed into a true extension of the artist herself. Block refers to her guitar as an "orchestra all on its own," a point successfully proven throughout the recording.

Last Fair Deal is a brilliant piece of work, containing 14 songs highlighting the artist's passionate vocals, stinging slide technique and instinctual interpretation of the genre's origins. The opening track, "Gone Again," is a hard-driving, high-energy tune illustrating Block's masterful guitar genius, even showing her playful side. It begins with the roar of a Harley, as she punctuates a rhythmic response, keeping pace with the engine. As the bike trails off in the distance, her slide mirrors the open road, traveling across the fretboard while enjoying the ride. The following track, "Sookie Sookie," is a slower slide piece. This soulful blues tune tells the story of a cheating husband and the turmoil caused. The aggressive slide work expresses the overall anger and frustration while she vocally conveys the painful heartache. Next, Block honors both her musical roots and long-time mentor Son House with an authentic presentation of "County Farm Blues." She embellishes upon the delta style with such natural ease, delivering a gutsy, acoustic performance. Her emphasis remains loyal to the traditional feel, surely making the master quite proud.

Two tracks also pay tribute to Robert Johnson, "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and "Traveling Riverside Blues." Block rips into some raw, deliberate blues work. There is plenty of hard-driving rhythm and blistering slide, without overshadowing her distinctive vocal accents. All three tracks are pure passion and dazzling proficiency, an excellent display of this blues guitar virtuoso at her finest.

Last Fair Deal is a complete package, as the artist explores several areas of the blues genre. She ventures into a wealth of creative imagery on "Amazing Grace" and "Awesome Love," two instrumentals that sparkle with spontaneity. Each track shines with long tonal expressions, resonating inner beauty with intense emotion. Both sound improvised at times, yet very deliberate at others, as each carries a warm glow from start to finish. There's also a spiritual presence on this new CD, as Block exercises her gospel muscle. On "Declare," both vocals and slide testify simultaneously, with Block sounding like a preacher at a Sunday morning service. The choir articulates a bright, uplifting sound with their "call and response" style, helping to drive home the message. "Look What the Lord Has Done" is another strong spiritual track with plenty of gospel and country blues overtones, celebrating the power of the Lord. Block also covers a more folk-type blues on "Mama's Stray Baby" and "Two Places at a Table." Both tracks are very introspective, as the artist shares on a very personal level. She reaches into the emotional well about love and loss almost too difficult to describe. Block opens the door just wide enough for the listener to feel her joy and sorrow, tenderness and heartache, told poignantly through the clarity of her voice and the strings of her guitar.

Last Fair Deal is a wondrous blend of musical color, vivid as a rainbow after a thunderstorm. Each track, with its own unique style and sound, is blended together creating an amazing masterpiece. This new CD finds Block returning home to the blues, honoring its tradition and venturing into its future. The depth of emotion and artistic creativity on this new recording will have both her fans and the folks at Telarc wanting for more. Block has definitely hit this one out of the park, most certainly an impressive example of what's yet to come.

- Rambles
written by Pamela L. Dow
published 17 January 2004



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