NEW YORK — Acoustic blues singer/guitarist Rory Block grew up in New York's Greenwich Village, where her musician father had a sandal shop that was a popular hangout for such blues musicians as Son House and Mississippi John Hurt.
She has recorded nearly a dozen albums that combine the best of the country blues tradition with modern pop and rock sounds. Currently touring to promote her latest release, "Tornado" (Rounder), Block made a homecoming of sorts, performing at New York's Bottom Line, a few blocks from the site of her father's shop.
Backed up by a five-piece band that included her son Jordan Valdina on conga drums, the singer recently performed a heartfelt set showcasing her impassioned vocals and powerful guitar work. She covered much of the new album, which consists of 10 originals and an Andy Barnes song, "The Last Leviathan" - one of the highlights of the show. Performing the song - a dirgelike antiwar hymn - accompanied only by a synthesizer, Block displayed her vocal technique to stunning effect. Many of her other vocals, however, were buried in an unwieldy sound mix.
Block also revealed a strong sense of political and social awareness. She typically introduced a song by describing it as being about "people with fancy degrees who take advantage of good people like you and me." And the instrumental "Gone Woman Blues," which showed off her superb slide guitar playing, was dedicated to Nicole Brown.
Some of Block's material has a certain generic quality, particularly in its lyrical content. And the show had more than its share of self-indulgence: Roughly half the running time was devoted to her complaints about the sound quality, and a long segment featuring her son in a rap/funk number was an embarrassment.
Block is currently treading a fine line, trying to stay faithful to her blues roots while at the same time giving the material a more contemporary sound in the hopes of crossing over to a wider audience. Her ever-growing legion of fans demonstrates that she is managing the mixture adroitly.
Upcoming concert dates for Block include July 17 in Cleveland and July 18 in Pontiac, Mich.