Sunday, September 21, 2008

Son House Tribute falls short

The latest Rory Block album, Blues Walkin’ Like a Man (Stony Plain), is a well-intentioned tribute to Eddie 'Son' House, one of the giants of the Delta Blues, following up a Robert Johnson tribute album. I have not heard the latter and wonder why I would insofar as I have found her renditions of classic country blues too close to the originals and often sounding studied, even academic. I have found her own songs much more appealing than her covers. But doing an entire album of Son House is a brave but ultimately unsatisfying effort, as her performances cannot avoid comparison to House’s originals, and even where House had lost his dexterity, the force of his playing and vocals make these emulations that generally fall flat. And this is not to ignore Block being a skilled musician. House’s singing voice was a straight extension of his speaking voice whereas Block’s vocals are not a similar extension of her voice. A comparison might be a New York vocalist singing with so much heart in cajun French but unable to shake a tinge of a newyawk accent. John Sebastian plays harmonica on several selections, and Block overdubs a vocal chorus on a couple selections, more satisfactory on the gospel number I Want to Go Home On the Morning Train, than on the remake of House’s Paramount recordings, Dry Spell Blues, where the added vocals make the track into an aural mess. I note that Dick Waterman, who was Son House’s manager after his rediscovery, has endorsed this tribute. Perhaps some will discover Son’s music from this, and that certainly is not a bad thing. Still, the back cover quotes Blues Revue that Rory Block “can hold her own with the legends who inspired her.” Listening to this tribute, I respectfully disagree.

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