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|Related: Bridge Street Live, Rory Block, Mentor Series, Avalon, Stony Plain Records|
Multi-award-winning blues singer/guitarist Rory Block will release the fourth CD in her "Mentor Series" on June 4 with Avalon on Stony Plain Records, a tribute to blues master Mississippi John Hurt. Previous Rory Block salutes have been to Rev. Gary Davis (I Belong to the Band), Mississippi Fred McDowell (Shake 'em on Down) and Son House (Blues Walkin' Like a Man).
Like the others before it, on Avalon Rory Block pays a loving reverence to another of the blues greats whose influences have made a major impact on her career path and music. Ten of the 11 tracks on the new CD are songs associated with Hurt's repertoire; while the lone original tune - which leads off the album - "Everybody Loves John," is Rory's personal love letter to the iconic bluesman, name-checking a litany of songs that were a major part of his blues canon.
"Mississippi John Hurt was a truly unique artist," says Block, the most celebrated living female acoustic blues artist. "He left a resounding impact on our musical landscape. We think of him as outwardly mellow, sweet, and as one writer described it, singing in a 'whisper.' But have you pondered the words? Alongside gospel material, this gentle man sang about sex, murder, mystery, violence and steamy sensuality. It gets ever deeper the more you listen.
"Most people finger pick simply, carefully, and with enough volume to be heard and enjoyed. But next to the masters we can find ourselves tinkling away while the train pulls out of the station. Mississippi John Hurt bounced rhythmically from side to side while he was playing - did this bounce add power and jauntiness to the notes, or did his extra strong attack on the strings create the bounce? We can never do polite versions of these songs if we want to capture some of the power that made the originals great and enduring."
Many of Hurt's best known and beloved songs are on Avalon, including "Candy Man," "Frankie & Albert," "Got the Blues Can't be Satisfied," "Richland Woman Blues," "Spike Driver Blues," "Stagolee," "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor," "Pay Day" and the title track, plus other tunes that demonstrate how diverse and significant his contributions were to blues history.
"Many worthy artists have covered these songs, but when you examine the source, you understand more fully the level of greatness that was in the original versions - greatness that is also almost impossible to define," Block states. "But let me try by saying that true character, charisma, drive, and soulfulness are some of the essential ingredients. So how will we manage? With devotion, respect, reverence, and with energy - with extra 'oomph' - lest we be weak."
And Rory Block is anything but weak on these tracks, imbuing every ounce of her musical and spiritual strength into each song, muscling inside the core source of every track and working her way out through each verse and chorus as they take their own twists and turns to get to their final denouement.
Rory Block's connection to Mississippi John Hurt goes back five decades. "In December of 1963, I met Mississippi John Hurt at a concert in New York which also featured the great Old Timey musician Doc Boggs," she recalled in her autobiography, When a Woman Gets the Blues. "We went backstage as we always did. Stefan Grossman was part of the accepted insiders group and we never needed special passes. Hurt's presence was shy and gentle. His face was beautifully weather beaten; he wore a signature hat, and always had a mellow smile. I loved the way he rocked around when he played... it was a bounce that started slow and built up to a strong pace that carried the music. He had his own way of doing this - I never saw anyone else with this exact style of moving and playing. At times when I am performing I feel this energy come over me: the Mississippi John Hurt bounce energy."