Rory Block,
Shake 'Em On Down
(Stony Plains, 2011)

As a teenaged guitarist and blues freak running around Greenwich Village, Rory Block met and studied with a great number of the old blues masters: Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Bukka White, the Reverend Gary Davis and, of course, the man to whom this album pays tribute, Mississippi Fred McDowell.

Shake 'Em On Down offers Block's original songs written in McDowell's style and interpretations of a bunch of McDowell's songs. This is stuff Block can do while she figures out her income tax quarterlies; she is so schooled in the Delta blues that it comes naturally to her. Her guitar work, both slide and fingerstyle, is superb and her voice soars through these songs.

The key to the album's success is simple; even as she uses McDowell's songs and his guitar style, Block manages to make this material her own. She does not replicate the songs but instead interprets them. Take "Good Morning Little School Girl" as an example. Since it was originally sung by a man to a schoolgirl, you would think Block would change the gender of the kid, so the song became a woman singing to a boy. She doesn't, thereby making it an entirely different kind of song. A small stroke, but one that carries large implications. Sometimes, Block changes the tempo of the song, sometimes she lengthens the vocal lines, occasionally she adds a second guitar, but what she never does is ape Mississippi Fred McDowell.

This is Block's third tribute album and is part of what she calls the Mentor Series. She has previously done tribute discs to Robert Johnson and Son House. It's fine to see the masters celebrated and these are fine albums, but I hope Bock continues to put out her own excellent albums of Rory Block originals. She deserves tribute also.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

20 August 2011

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