Review by Bokonon
Rory Block wasn’t born with the blues, but she was raised with it. An unbelievable pantheon of greats strolled through the door of her father’s Greenwich Village sandal shop, and the young Aurora sat down at their feet, to learn, as cliché would have it, from the masters.
Did she meet Robert Johnson? No. But she did shake hands with Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi Fred McDowell and the wraith-like Skip James.
At the Van Dyck, Block turned that protean knowledge into a hellfire of blues. Maybe the real heart of Block’s sound is the way her socket wrench slide clicks against the frets. She’s not taking it easy.
The drone of an open tuning is an ancient moan that crosses many cultures. In Block’s world, it summons the Delta. Not the crossroads, butthe real sharecropper sound of bright, intelligent people forced to work with their backs. She may not fit the visual — still beautiful at 63, her long flowing hair touched with grey — but she channels the sound.
House’s magnetic “Death Letter Blues” found new life in Schenectady. So did Davis’ “Lo, I Be With You Always” and Hurt’s deathless “Frankie.”
Her original songs are built on similar structures, bluestropes she’s streamlined and re-invented. But they also offer a deeper sense of a woman’s touch. That doesn’t mean sissy; it means mother, goddess and restorer.
“Lovin’ Whiskey” remains a powerhouse, 25 years on. “Silver Wings” is the purest known distillation of a solo performance, the fingersnaps grazing the hip, while the strings wrap around the soul.
Not so with her paean to McDowell, “Steady Freddy,” which was the evening’s (at least the first show’s) only misstep — with Block too caught up in her reverie to fully realize the thin tune’s potential.
Block is a local, with a longtime Chatham address. That makes us generous, as we share her with the rest of the globe. That makes her sweet, because she shares herself with us, too.