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Review: Rory Block, Shake ‘Em On Down: a tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell

Rory Block
Shake ‘Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred Mcdowell
[Stony Plain Records (2011)]

It is difficult to find another musician who puts the kind of unbridled passion into the work that Rory Block does. With every bend of a string or sweet growl of her voice, listeners are treated to history and true art in one shot. On Shake ‘Em On Down, part of Block’s “The Mentor Series” project, and her third homage to her blues ancestors, she sounds particularly free and intuitive. Her slide guitar playing is especially fluid as she honors Mississippi Fred McDowell. Interpretations of McDowell’s work alongside significant originals make for a nice balance. Block creates so many textures here with just her voice and her instrument. Check out her gritty vocal on “What’s The Matter Now?” or how she masterfully presents McDowell’s propulsive guitar style and draws out a spoken phrase for the utmost meaning and effect on the title cut. The haunting gospel intensity of “Woke Up This Morning” and the range and strength of her voice on “Worried Mind” bring it all home.

Block’s track notes give a clear understanding of just how lovingly she embraces and nurtures her craft. She talks about leaving her comfort zone when she records these tributes. That is a wise and creative thing to do in the artistic process. It invites and heartily welcomes magic, and it has resulted in a wonderfully fitting and respectful recognition of one of the architects of Delta blues.

—Ellen Geisel (Ballston Lake, NY)

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