As a teenager in New York during the early 1960s, Rory Block had the good fortune to meet some of the original Delta blues masters when they passed through town. Looking back, she recalls those much-older musicians projecting nothing but kindness toward her.
“I think the idea of somebody honoring them by loving their music was enough to break any kind of ice that could possibly have been there,” Block adds.
Lately, the singer/guitarist has been honoring some of those blues greats with tribute albums, and on her latest, Avalon (Stony Plain), Block shines a spotlight on Mississippi John Hurt.
Block met Hurt in December 1963 at a concert in New York, and she later traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit Hurt at his home.
“There was nothing that could have been more inspiring than sitting in a room with [Hurt and the other blues players I met],” Block says. “That was a lifelong inspiration. Did it change anything about the way I approached the music? Not specifically, but what [meeting them] did was show me that person’s personal charisma and their personal beauty, and that was deeply inspiring, and that affected me greatly.”
Avalon is the fourth in Block’s “tribute series” of albums; for the previous editions, she recorded versions of songs that are associated with Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Rev. Gary Davis. In the liner notes to Avalon, Block writes, “One of the things I have endeavored to capture in this tribute series is a return to a more earthy, natural approach.”
Asked to expand on that thought, she says, “When I was younger, in my earlier recordings, lots of times I was worried about ‘clean this, clean that.’ … I’ve seen the way people used to sanitize things in the studio, and I used to do it, too: Pick out any little pop or funny frequency and spend hours eliminating and cleaning.”
Block adds, “I don’t do that anymore because I feel like a lot of the excitement gets lost when you do that. … So somewhere, maybe about five or six records ago, when I was with Telarc, that kind of signaled my moving into a different arena: Don’t try to make it perfect. Put it on the record much closer to the way you performed it. Leave in some of the gritty things. So the vocal cracked once? Leave it. It’s about a feeling, not about sanitizing the tracks.”
After Avalon, Block says there will be “definitely one more” album in her tribute series, and perhaps as many as two.
“But I don’t say who it could be because anything can happen; anything can change,” Block says. “It kind of also depends on what fits into the box because we’re going to put these in a boxed set. I’m excited about having all of them together at the end. That will feel nice and complete to me.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Rory Block on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Sept. 18: Sandyswoods Center for the Arts — Tiverton, R.I.
* Sept. 19: Katharine Hepburn Art Center — Old Saybrook, Conn.
* Sept. 20: Sellersville Theater — Sellersville, Pa.
* Sept. 21: World Café Live — Wilmington, Del.
* Sept. 22: City Winery — New York
* Sept. 27: Morristown Unitarian Fellowship — Morristown, N.J.
* Oct. 4: The Van Dyck — Schenectady, N.Y.
* Oct. 5: Harvard Public Library — Harvard, Mass.
* Oct. 6: Saco River Theatre — Buxton, Maine