A review for The Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By David M. Schultz
Quick on the heels of her previous album, 1995's "When a Woman Gets the Blues," Rory Block is already promoting her new record TORNADO. This record is likely her biggest foray beyond what she is known best for, acoustic guitar blues, and will likely be the record to bring her the most mainstream attention. In preparation for this anticipated popularity, Block will be promoting TORNADO with her first-ever U. S. tour fronting a band.
The album opens with the blues standard "Mississippi Bottom Blues" - classic Block with her acoustic guitar prominently featured amongst spare and tasteful production, including a sizzling electric guitar solo by Jeff Miranov. It seems as if the progression of songs on this album take the Block aficionado from familiar territory to a style more akin to Bonnie Raitt or Natalie Merchant. The album's next two tracks, "Picture of You" and "That's All Right," begin to define the style that typifies many of the songs on TORNADO. "Pictures of You," the first single, is an up tempo pop-rocker strengthened by smart production and a crisp guitar solo by David Lindley. Other guest appearances include synthesizer by Paul Shaffer, harmonies by Mary Chapin-Carpenter, and fiddle by Nashville virtuoso Stuart Duncan.
"The Last Leviathan" showcases Block's vocal prowess in a gospel format, backed only by the synthesized sounds of a Sunday-morning organ. Other songs ("Rosaline," "Like a Shotgun") have a testimonial or spiritual quality to them from which the listener easily slips into the situations described in the songs. Part songwriting and part vocal mastery. The ability to tell a story and draw the listener in by invoking deep feelings is the strong point of many of Block's songs. It is this ability that elevates her work above the rest.
Many of the tracks appear to have special significance for Block as five of the eleven tracks are dedicated to specific situations or people. For example, there is the raw energy of the backing instrumentals overlain with Block's wails on TORNADO, inspired by the Great Barrington, Massachusetts tornado from the summer of 1995. The blues instrumental shuffle of "Gone Woman Blues," is dedicated to Nicole Brown and sounds like a mellow cousin to "Rollin' and Tumblin'" from Eric Clapton's "Unplugged."
Although the level of instrumentation is expanded beyond what many have come to expect from Block, the album does not wallow in lush overproduction. The sound quality of the album is clean with the vocals very clear in the final mix. Many of the songs on this album are likely to find a home on the emerging AAA radio format, but perhaps that's what Block had in mind after all.
TORNADO is Rory Block's eleventh record
for Rounder Records (Rounder 3140).
Her previous records, as well as TORNADO, can be ordered directly from Rounder (617-354-0700).
Copyright 1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
This review may be reproduced with prior permission and attribution.