A fitting salute
Reviewed October 2008
Blues Walkin' Like a Man: A Tribute to Son House
By Rory Block
Stony Plain Music: 2008
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Blueswoman Rory Block has been putting out noteworthy country blues albums for over three decades. Her latest is "Blues Walkin' Like a Man: A Tribute to Son House," and for fans of Block and good acoustic blues guitar this is a treat.
Her credentials as a picker well established and in good evidence on many cuts, like the opener "My Black Mama," which like a number of other cuts features just Block and her guitar. She is definitely playing in House's style, which combines finger-picked country walking patterns with slide accents. Technically flawless, she is joined on other cuts by harp and backing vocal tracks on two cuts, but the emphasis is on re-creating a time capsule of House and his music.
House, one of the early influences on Muddy Waters and other later bluesmen, wrote the original versions of many blues standards, some of which are included here. Among the better known are "Preachin' Blues" (done as a slide guitar masterpiece by Block), "Death Letter" and "County Farm Blues," which evolved into "Parchman Farm Blues" based on House's own imprisonment there in the 1920s.
The sound of this disc is dominated by an effort to match the sound of both the vocal and guitar stylings of House. There is a deliberately lo-fi echo to the overall sound that helps, and Block sings with a deeply affected drawl through all of the songs. Though there is flawless execution of this approach, be prepared: Block isn't Son House, and lacks the Joplinesque growl of Susan Tedeschi, but tries hard. The song structure varies little from song to song, and her attempts to mimic a Delta blueman's voice tend towards a plodding sameness over the 13 cuts here. Interestingly, a gospel-feeling, countrified reading of "I Want to Go Home On the Morning Train" with backup choruses doesn't come until the end; it would have been a welcome break earlier. For true blues lovers, this minor quibble will not be a problem.
"Blues Walkin'’ Like a Man" is a satisfying tribute to a legendary figure to whom all modern music players and listeners owe a debt, delivered by a polished pro.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.