FAME Review: Rory Block - Avalon: A Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt
Rory Block - Avalon: A Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt

A Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt

Rory Block

Stony Plain Records - SPCD1369

Available from Amazon.com.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

This is going to be a bit of an unorthodox critique, as Rory's on an homage bender, and we all should be eagerly sacrificing lambs to the gods that she doesn't get off it anytime soon. I covered her muscial pilgrimage to Rev. Gary Davis (here) and to Mississippi Fred McDowell (here), but this one to John Hurt is every bit as good as those two, featuring just Block, her voice, and guitar, the latter two simul-synched as needed, including a triple-sweet backing vocal chorus heard in the lead cut, Everybody Loves John.

Interestingly, there's been a bit of a brouhaha on the Net regarding her recent works, with some particularly nasty crap coming from a babbling a-hole named 'Madman Sam', but such trolls and goobers are missing much…and what finer justice could there possibly be than that they are? The punishment's contained in the offending act itself. Block's intermixed guitar work is hypnotic and harmonically complex, while her voice ranges everywhere except where I suspect clowns like Sam want it to go: Etta James or similar. Clue: she ain't Etta, but what Rory is, Etta ain't. What Block invests her gymnastic vocals with is just as compelling as her instrumental side but vastly more emotional. If testosterone seems to be missing, here's the second clue: Block's decidedly female and brings a sweetness to the work that's rare to locate anywhere else. More, you'll find her interpretations nowhere but here, and what she brings, males jes' ain't capable of.

Avalon shimmers and shines, and this probably irks some blues purists, but there's just as much delta here as anywhere you'd care to name. It drags itself out of the bayou waters to catch a day of golden sun while grinning at the human condition, simultaneously guffawing at any notion of moribund 'purity'. Ah hates to informs all y'all pontificoraters, but ain't nothin' pure under the sun, certainly not even the good ol' basic blues, which drew just as much from white gospel as black, Appalachian and madrigal as East and South Africa rhythms, and sundry other sources East and West, up and down. That's only part of it, though, 'cause then we proceed to the Chicago and London influences, then on to unique artists like Doug MacLeod, and God only know what and who else. Purity? Don't make me laugh. I could name one hell of a lot of bluesers, male and female, who don't bring a hell of a lot to the game…but I won't. I'm too damned busy blissing out on this disc and can't be bothered with small minds and pedestrian attitudes.

Ironically enough, in the past, though, I wasn't all that enamored of Rory's work—liked it, collected it, but had no real strong opinion one way or the other. Since she started this tribute series, though? I'm 138% in her camp, and, though an atheist, am considering getting down on my knees and asking The Big Guy In The Sky if he mightn't be able to see his way to ensuring she doesn't set her sights on anything else for a while yet. For whatever reason, these last several discs made her bloom fully, brought her true nature and depths out, and I sure don't want to miss one single note of what's still swirling around inside. Maybe later on she can do a tribute to Led Zeppelin and keep monkeys like Madman Sam happy, but—please Lord please!—let it be later. Much later. Maybe never.

Track List:

  • Everybody Loves John
  • Avalon
  • Candy Man
  • Frankie & Albert
  • Got The Blues Can't Be Satisfied
  • Louis Collins
  • Richland Woman Blues
  • Spike Driver Blues
  • Stagolee
  • Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor
  • Pay Day
As far as I can tell, all songs were written by John Hurt.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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