'Mama's Blues'; Rory Block; Rounder Records. A smattering of recent releases gives a taste of styles ranging from blues, folk, musical theater, classical, rap, and rock. The writers share 11 compact discs they find noteworthy.
When Rory Block was 14 years old, she spent hours in her upstate New York home, hovering over a crackling stereo speaker with a guitar and notepad, scribbling down words and chord progressions.Other aspiring guitarists have done the same but few have the drive to stick with it, and fewer still end up with a sound as polished and honest as Block's. Given her taste for blues classics, it's not surprising that Block devotes half her album to cover songs that range from the sassy taunt of Bessie Smith in "Do Your Duty," to the haunting "Bye Bye Blues" of Tommy Johnson. Block notes that many of the original lyrics are difficult to understand, and at times she had to fill in the gaps with words that matched the sounds of the 60-year-old vinyl recordings that served as her sources. It all sounds authentic. Along with her exquisite acoustic guitar work, Block has a knack for storytelling. The title track, "Mama's Blues," is a standout. Block evokes an elderly woman whose husband still doesn't understand her and sadly lacks the interest to try. Most of the album was recorded in a church owned by members of the African Methodist Episcopal church in the town of Chatham, N.Y. One day as her recording sessions drew to an end, Block invited the church choir to join her in recording "Sing Good News" a gospel-inspired tune written by Block. This final track alone is pure bliss.