10 tracks/45:45 running time
When an artist writes their own liner notes inclusive of the genesis from which each song is gleaned, and nails it, objectively, pure emotion notwithstanding, it is frosting on the fritter.
This is the case with Rory Block’s latest album, Hard Luck Child. This album is the latest in Block’s Mentor Series which are interpretive explorations of blues masters she met as a teenager. She has recorded the songs of Robert Johnson (The Lady and Mr. Johnson), Son House (Blues Walkin’ Like A Man: A Tribute To Son House), (Mississippi Fred McDowell (Shake ‘Em on Down: A Tribute To Mississippi Fred McDowell), Reverend Gary Davis (I Belong To The Band: A Tribute To Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt (Avalon: A Tribute To Mississippi John Hurt) and this disk, Skip James (Hard Luck Child: A Tribute To Skip James.
In a quote from her biography “When A Woman Gets The Blues, Block states, “From the beginning I have been meticulous about naming the original writers and celebrating the source of the music. That is not to be glossed over or hidden. No one can say I stole material as my own or devalued the artists who created the music. It has been a lifelong mission to honor them, play the music as it is written, and highlight the unique, historic, foundational quality of the art. But neither will I allow anyone to place rules, restrictions, or try to limit the spirit that inspires the spirit of humans. No one can control that, thank God. I will not apologize for loving blues.“
No apology necessary. The reading material here, exceedingly compliments Block’s superior playing and singing. From the poignant liner notes to the aforementioned source information on each song, this is a superior labor of love, a sonorous Ph.D dissertation, if you will, on a master of Mississippi Delta Blues groove.
That being said, one might find it hard to pick standout tracks on this disk. There is an evenness here that circumvents any track necessarily being better than the other. It’s like a concept album. It’s all one.
The references to Jesus and direct connection between Gospel and Blues are also evident. As Ms. Block states in her summary of Track one, “Nehemiah James,” “This ‘Holy Ghost’ connection is far more fundamental to the sound than many people realize today. Thus in reading about Skip James’s early life, I was not surprised to find his history featured a preaching father and time spent touring in a gospel choir. Thus unfolds the story…“
Witness the melding of vocal characteristics channeling Mavis Staples and Clara Ward inTrack 7, “Jesus Is A Mighty Good Leader.” We’re being led back up a hallowed trail here.