Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shake 'Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell reviewed by Rick Davis

Shake 'Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell
Rory Block
Stony Plain Records
12 Tracks

Aurora "Rory" Block grew up in Manhattan listening to musicians like Bob Dylan, Maria Muldaur and John Sebastian all making occasional appearances in and around her father's Greenwich Village sandal shop. By the age of 10, she was playing guitar and as a teenager was sitting in on the Sunday jam sessions in Washington Square Park. She soon became influenced by the Delta blues through personal contacts with 20th century masters like the Reverend Gary Davis and traded stories and guitar licks with Son House who kept asking "Where did she learn to play like this?" She made visits to the hospital to see Skip James and traveled to Washington, DC, to visit with Mississippi John Hurt and learn his technique and his creative guitar style. Labeled as a traditional blues artist, Rory Block has dedicated her life to capturing the essence of the Delta blues with her deep rooted vocals and acoustic guitar style. The New York Times describes Block by stating: "Her playing is perfect, her singing otherworldly as she wrestles with ghosts, shadows and legends."
Shake 'Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell is part of her project to continue a series of tributes to her mentors. The CD exemplifies her acoustic country blues guitar style and traditional slide guitar that is her trademark. The CD begins with "Steady Freddy" a tune written by Block which is a brief history of Fred McDowell. "Mississippi Man," another song penned by Block, is a first hand account of a personal encounter with McDowell. It takes Rory back to the first time she met Mississippi Fred McDowell creating that image of the Mississippi Delta bluesman that changed her life forever. She covers a lot of McDowell's music in her tribute CD, including her own version of "Kokomo Blues." Block takes the Sonny Boy Williamson song, "Good Morning Little School Girl," changes the gender, and creates a sound in tune with the McDowell version. She continues with her own traditional Delta blues sound on three more McDowell blues numbers "What's The Matter Now," Worried Mind," and the title track "Shake 'Em On Down." She continues with McDowell's "The Girl That I'm Lovin'" making it her own by changing it to "The Man That I'm Lovin'." She talks about the many hours she spend trying to create just the sound she wanted on that particular number. "Ancestral Home" penned by Rory, has a very distinct African sound influenced by songs she had heard on a family album. Another Block tune "The Breadline" started as an instrumental and developed into a story about life during the depression experienced by others like McDowell in 1926. The CD concludes with the gospel inspired McDowell tune "Wake Up This Morning" and finishing with the McDowell number "Write Me A Few Of Your Lines."

After listening to Rory Block's Shake 'Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell, it is obvious that she really provides that link back to that original Delta blues that was recorded shortly after the turn of the century with her gritty vocals and smooth finger picking/slide guitar style that is all her own. With her music, she creates that visual image of Delta artists like Big Joe Williams, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Son House, Muddy Waters, and or course Mississippi Fred McDowell as they entertained throughout the South.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

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