In an era when The Great American Songbook is more than ever in the eyes and ears of musicians, it's past time someone started an equal trend in blues, and that's precisely what Rory Block has done, beginning with Son House (here), then Mississippi Fred McDowell (here), and now Reverend Gary Davis. I Belong to the Band, however, may well be the rawest work she's ever committed to documentation, a fact made plain as day in the very first number, Samson & Delilah, wherein Block shouts, stomps, screeches, and expounds to beat the band, almost scary but heartfelt as hell. She next turns to the Bible and its backwater congregations in the follower, Goin' to Sit down on the Banks of the River, complete with gospel choir singing all and sundry to salvation.
The atmosphere in I Belong is mostly spare and cloistered, lending a lot of period atmosphere, sounding as though created in a backwater shack or rundown delta church, eschewing the glossy possibilities in crafted studio engineering, staying firmly in the style. Though the emphasis is on vocals, Block's playing is exceptionally defined throughout the disc, sometimes multi-tracked (all guitars here are hers) but always 100% on the mark. Rory says she was crying during the making of the CD, overwhelmed with powerful emotions, and not one person who listens to this will for a second doubt that. As far as I'm concerned, this is the pinnacle of the woman's career, blowing the rest of her catalogue—and much of it is very good—out the back door, even more gritty and heartfelt than the last two outings.
It may be that Rory Block has redefined what it means to pay proper tribute to the elder masters because this is hauntingly accurate, soul deep, and moving. I as easily see the Rolling Stones sitting back gasping as B.B. King and Eric Clapton (Janis, too, were she alive) because the bar has been raised significantly and more than a few will be rethinking their sentiments regarding what's required to understand the blues. Decades ago, Peter Green woke me to the form, and the last CD that really nailed my ears to the wall was Bernie Pearl's Somebody Got to Do It!. Block's I Belong to the Band follows right in the path of both, painstakingly faithful to a musical genre that's far more complex than most realize, a style requiring a musical, emotional, and spiritual literacy and investment that most just aren't capable of.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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