Rory Block,
I'm Every Woman
(Rounder, 2002)

If you know Rory Block only as an acoustic blues goddess, this CD will be a real surprise -- and a delightful one. Block expands her repertoire here to include soul and R&B, as well as a few other subgenres as well, and it's an attempt that meets with great success.

Block bookends the CD with "Guitar Ditty" and "Guitar Ditty 2," two brief tracks that hearken back strongly to her previous gutsy blues work, as if to remind us that that's where her heart still remains. But in between are a dozen killer tracks of sweet soul and rocking R&B, beginning with Ashford and Simpson's "I'm Every Woman," a nice piece of funk that Block cooks to near-perfection, although the synth string section is a little cheesy (as is every synth "string section" I've ever heard).

The synths try to become the Memphis Brass in Curtis Mayfield's "Fool For You," to equally uneven effect, but it hardly matters when Block's vocal skims overtop. She's got a perfect voice for this kind of song, as she does for "Sea Lion Woman," sung with Gaye Adegbalola. The women's voices are multi-tracked until it sounds like a whole choir, and the effect is stunning. "Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down" is another vocal tour de force, powerful and gutsy. Al Green's "Tired of Being Alone" gets a nicely funky rendition, and Block comes right back with "Love TKO." This woman seems to be able to sing anything -- she's got a wonderfully growling low register, a strong middle register, and a wild high wailing that never sounds strained.

A country blues is next with "Rock Island Line," followed by a Block R&B original called "Talkin' 'Bout My Man," that deserves to stand with these classics of the past. It's a burner. The great Keb' Mo' joins in on "Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing," which starts and ends with pure vocal power and has a heapin' helpin' of tight soul in between. Country blues rears its head again with "Pretty Polly," where Block is nicely assisted by Kelly Joe Phelps.

Another gentleman, the Reverend Herb Sheldon, makes a moving and inspirational appearance on "Hold On/Change Is Coming." Sheldon's calm, steady voice and the music behind it provide a powerful message. The final song, "I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home," is a great way to go out, and reaffirms Block's current standing, not just as the Queen of Acoustic Blues, but as a real contender for R&B diva.

If you have any teenybopper friends or daughters (or even granddaughters), tell them to lay off Britney Spears long enough to listen to this and hear what a strong and sexy voice really is. It may not be what you're used to hearing from Rory Block, but it's mighty fine. Block is enough of an artist that her listeners should be willing to follow her anywhere she wants to go. Only thing is, you'll have to get in line behind me.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 23 March 2002

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