CD Review: Rory Block’s Memories of Rev. Gary Davis
There’s something deeply triumphant about the new album from veteran country blues singer Rory Block, and what’s strange is that I’m not sure why this is. I Belong to the Band, released May 29 on Stony Plain Records, should be a simple album of covers of Reverend Gary Davis, the fabled blues/gospel shouter made famous in the 60s/70s folk revival. But there’s something deeper at work here. I think it’s love. In the liner notes, Block talks about visiting Davis with guitar master Stefan Grossman, and how Davis’ kind but stern, and thoroughly imposing, demeanor greatly impressed her. She soaked up the music, though it seems she didn’t actively take lessons from Davis, but more than that she connected to both Davis and Grossman as friends and reflects on that time with the slightly sorrowful memory that comes in later life. In creating an album of Davis covers, she’s both drawing forth these memories and also tying them to the memories of her life. Somehow she touches something deeper by doing this.
While I was expecting either iconoclastic covers of Davis, re-envisioning his music via her own lens, or pitch-perfect recreations, this album actually has neither. She just plays the music hard, beautifully hard. Her voice is as powerful as Davis and her picking gets the job done right. Despite the rather straight-ahead renditions, there’s a sense of triumph underneath, a sense of barely suppressed joy in the music. As the baby boomers move into late life, the music they once imitated has now become the music of their own lifetimes. In the liner notes, Block laments the loss of old-time tradition bearers like Davis, but doesn’t reflect that perhaps she might be bearing traditions of her own. Why did people fall in love with Davis’ music if not for the fact that he brought a lifetime of love to it? And that’s why I’m falling in love with this album from Rory Block: it reflects her own lifetime of loving the blues.
Rory Block: Twelve Gates to the City
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