It is said the blues were born in the Mississippi cotton fields, a child to contradictions. The contradiction of a sharecropper's cabin nestled alongside the opulent wealth that is the Old South. A spirit of wanderlust, coupled with an unbreakable bond to the Mississippi Delta.
The blues are about fidelity and lust, sobriety and drunkenness, faith and faithlessness, love and hate.Perhaps that's why Rory Block is such a wonderfully talented blues master. She epitomizes the contradiction that is the the blues.
Blues greats are supposed to be black men with bottleneck guitars and broken strings. She is white woman with an unmarred acoustic guitar that looks like any other. Bluesmen are supposed to be southern, preferably from Mississippi. She's a northerner who probably doesn't even know how to cook red beans and rice.
Appearances aside, it is the soul of Rory Block's music that is so remarkably true to the spirit of the blues. She sings about loving a man but losing him when he decides he loves whiskey more than her. She sings about the joy of being a mother and the pain of being on the road as they grow up.
In many respects, Rory's music is transcendent. She embraces the rich country tradition that is the blues but she also raises the genre to an art form as relevant today as it was six decades ago when bluesmen were the spokesmen for an entire generation of working-class Americans caught between their aspirations and the poverty from which they could not escape.
Rory's Friday night concert at the University of Utah campus was both a loving tribute to the blues masters of yesterday and a scattering of blues-rooted originals that prove beyond doubt the blues can and do speak to and for a new generation.
Accompanied only by her acoustic guitar and a bass beat set by the stomp of her left foot, Rory opened her nearly two-hour set with a masterfully executed series of blues classics: "Big Road Blues," "Tal-la-hachee Blues," "Joliet Bound," "Hawkins Blues," "Ter-ra-plane Blues," "Mississippi Blues," "Peavine Blues," "Cried Like a Baby," "Walkin' Blues." For a blues fan, it was heaven on earth.
But Rory is far more than just a blues preservationist. She is also a wonderfully sensitive blues songwriter. Not the Memphis-Chicago-Kansas City electric rock kind of blues.
Rather, they were country blues. Delta blues. Acoustic blues that get under your skin and crawl into your heart. Like the beautiful but poignant (there's that contradiction again) "Lovin' Whiskey." And "Gotta Shine," about healing the internal wounds we all carry around, and "Silver Wings," written for a friend who died of breast cancer. And there was the touching "Road to Mexico," a classic song of road weariness and loss wherein she asks "what good am I if I can't be back home."
As powerful as her tribute to the blues greats was, perhaps the evening's most emotionally moving songs were originals like "Spider Boy," "Mama's Blues" and the unforgettable "Somebody's Baby," about a homeless, pregnant woman stranded at a roadside rest stop, hungry and low on hope.
The song was inspired by a real life incident in which "pregnant Sue" came over to Rory's car looking for something to eat. Rory doesn't know what happened to Sue, but she was determined Sue would not be forgotten.
It's that kind of passion for life and the people around her that envelops all of Rory's music. And with Rory singing and playing only the way she can, the spirit of the blues will not be forgotten, either.