I Belong to the Band

Blues singer/guitarist Rory Block has recorded three previous homages to honor the artists who have influenced her music—Robert Johnson, Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell—and all have earned high praise. This disc, subtitled A Tribute to Rev. Gary Davis, is the latest and celebrates this unique musician’s career. Like many others back in the ’20s, Rev. Davis (1896-1972) began as a street singer performing the kind of music (popular songs, blues, ragtime) that would encourage people to cough up some cash, but when he became an ordained minister in 1937 he pretty much gave up the blues and concentrated on what one writer called “holy blues, gospel songs with a blues inflection,” and that’s the legacy that Block celebrates here. Like House’s and McDowell’s, Davis’ career was revived during the folk-music boom of the ’60s, and as a teenager Block sought out Davis, whose stunning finger picking guitar stylings have awed guitarists for years. Of the 11 songs she’s chosen—many with lovely slide guitar accompaniment—the best known are his “Twelve Gates to the City,” “Samson and Delilah,” and “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” While her playing is superb, her occasionally biting vocals take some getting used to. One notable exception is on the title track, on which her overdubbed vocals twine beautifully around themselves.