Block, Rory – “a Woman’s Soul” – [Stony Plain Records]
Rory Block needs no introduction to those in the know of blues singers and musicians. Winner of numerous blues awards, Block has established a catalogue of respected recordings. “A Woman’s Soul”, which is a tribute to Bessie Smith, is the first in her”Power Women of the Blues” series which will honor a variety of distinguished female blues singers. Tribute albums can be a dangerous thing, a slippery slope. They often fall flat because the interpretation is to try and sound exactly like the original or to change the artist’s work so much that it just sounds ridiculous. Neither is the case in this wonderful 2018 collection of the familiar and the obscure and rare of Bessie Smith’s own catalogue of tunes. Smith’s voice was powerful, her interpretation unique within the confines of the blues musical pattern. Black takes these songs and makes them her own, in a great way. First, the instrumentation: Block plays all instruments – acoustic guitars, bass and percussion which is things like blocks, sticks, and boxes including oatmeal boxes. She puts this together in a manner that sometimes falls toward old country, and that is a good thing. Then her vocals: she has this vibrato that accentuates key words and phrases. Top that with her holding out specific notes and the meaning gets layered and put in your head. Her pitch rises and falls with the story she is telling, sometimes working out a guttural vocalization which hits the spot. This is a double thumbs up. Pure joy.