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Rory Block’s New Album – These Are Blues You Want To Get

Rory Block – Shake ‘Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell
**** (out of 4 stars)

Label: Stony Plain Music

If you’re wondering what is the best blues album released so far this year, Rory Block’s new release, Shake ‘Em Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell, is at the top of your list. There’s a reason Rory Block is one of the most acclaimed female acoustic blues artists around. This collection of songs is an instant classic and – let’s face it – your iPod needs an infusion of new, amazing blues music.

Rory Block doesn’t just play the blues — she preaches ‘em. Her latest release is part of a personal mission to record a series of albums in tribute to the delta blues greats. Her second album with Stony Plain Records is Shake ‘Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell (whom she actually met in the 1960s). The twelve tracks contain some of the most important Fred McDowell classics, as well as several original songs by Block, created in the style of McDowell. Shake Em’ On Down is pure, foot stomping blues, played with complete authority and inspiration.

To further appreciate Rory Block’s accomplishment, it helps to know a little something about the blues legend that she’s honoring. Mississippi Fred McDowell (1904-1972) was a blues artist in the North Mississippi style. He is considered the first of the bluesmen from the ‘North Mississippi’ region (east of the Delta) to receive widespread recognition for his music. McDowell offered a blues form that was closer in structure to its African roots, especially with the use of the single chord vamp. He’s well known for his declaration “I do not play no rock and roll,” although he was very supportive of several rockers from later generations that credited him as an influence (from The Rolling Stones, to Bonnie Raitt, to Rory Block).

Here’s a clip of Mississippi Fred McDowell for your listening pleasure…

Some of the album’s highlights:
“Kokomo Blues”…The twists and turns that Ms. Block takes on this one make the journey at once familiar and brand new. She lets the feeling flow and keeps it carefully focused at the same time.

“What’s The Matter Now?”…The fine, fine instrumentals lay a foundation just strong enough for Ms. Block to build upon with her powerful and playful vocals. It’s all about the give and take – between artist and song, between musicians at play, and between the truth and what we will admit of it. It’s also the perfect song to showcase Rory Block’s voice and guitar style.

“The Breadline”…There’s the blues and then there are all those things that contribute to the blues. Here’s a lamentation that deals directly with all that. Try listening to this one without keeping the tempo by shaking your head in agreement. Good luck with that.

“Woke Up This Morning”…A mountain of harnessed emotion that just might house a ready-to-erupt volcano. It’s a blend of passion and joy, and it’s phenomenal to hear the long-standing sentiment expressed so beautifully in modern times.

If you don’t have a Rory Block album in your collection, this is a must-have. If you are already a fan, this one (is it really her 30th album?) is another superb addition. Block’s impulse to grow her own collection of “blues homage” albums was a brilliant idea, and (as the albums make clear) an important one. Rory Block is a powerful delta blues guitar player because what she plays comes from a lifetime of dedication to the blues musical legacy. The work she continues with this album is adding to her own artistic legacy.

Here’s an audio clip of Rory Block performing “Mississippi Man” for your listening pleasure…

To preview (on Amazon.com) Rory Block’s Shake ‘Em On Down, click here.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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