Confessions of a Blues Singer
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Rory Block's thirteenth album for Rounder, Confessions of a Blues Singer, is appropriately titled. The album opens with nine country-blues songs from the early part of the 20th Century and closes with two autobiographical compositions by Block herself. Confessions can be described best as a mix between her last two albums: 1995's traditional When a Woman Gets the Blues and 1996's modern Tornado. By combining Block's re-workings of country blues and her own compositions, "Confessions" will be a treat for all.
Block describes in the liner notes the process by which the album came together. "One night I had a dream and woke with the slide riff from Charlie Patton's 'Bo Weevil Blues' soaring through my brain with great clarity and volume... I realized I was meant to record it, and that focused this album. I decided I was going to go for 'feel' over 'perfection'." Quite a surprising statement from an artist known for her perfection in the studio as well as onstage! Block attempted to recreate the sound of the early blues songs that were her inspiration in her younger days. In that vein, Confessions is an overwhelming success.
The album opens with Robert Johnson's If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day and Ramblin' On My Mind. The latter song features slide guitar by Bonnie Raitt, playing the late Roy Rogers' guitar. Featuring an intensity that matches her best work, Block attacks the Johnson songs, both with her strong vocals and percussive guitar work. The sparse instrumentation (Block and her acoustic guitar on most songs) adds to the authentic feel of these classics.
Block's son Jordan provides an impressive grizzled blues vocal ala Dave Van Ronk on I Am in a Heavenly Way. If you didn't know better, you might think that the male vocal was an unknown 70-year old black blues artist that Block picked up on her travels down south. Jordan also provides strong piano support for Block's wailing vocals on Louise Johnson's Long Way From Home.
Other songs that Block covers on Confessions include: Furry Lewis' Kassie Jones, the Rev. Robert Wilkins' I'll Go With Him, and Titanic (When that Great Ship Went Down), a song we used to sing around the fire at scout camp. It was a welcome memory from long ago to hear this song again.
The final two songs are preceded with Block's 37-second original instrumental Silver Slide Moan, segueing into Mother Marian, Block's tribute to Marian Van Ness, to whom the album is dedicated, and Life Song. Both tracks are around nine minutes long and are very much story songs. The former song tells the life story of Block's adopted grandmother. Perhaps the death of this 96-year old woman was cause for Block to reminisce upon her own life, with the autobiographical album-closer "Life Song." The final song is the most produced song on the album, complete with electric guitar, bass, and drums (played by famed producer Jerry Marotta).
Because of the abrupt discontinuity between the traditional country blues that open the album and Block's originals that close the album, it might be questioned whether it might have been better to save those two songs for a later time and let the album be completely blues. But, if we consider the title of the album and take a broader view of the blues, then it is clear that Block's Confessions both originate from the traditional and look forward with her own adding her own touches to the genre that has been her life's love.
Edited by Virginia Wagner