Shake ’em Down

Rory Block

Rory Block’s new CD—her latest in a score of albums that stretch back over 30 years—is subtitled A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell, and on it Block, a terrifically talented slide guitarist, pays homage to McDowell (1904-72), a master of the genre. Block, now a vibrant 61-year-old, left home at 15 and soon came under the influence of veteran bluesmen (e.g., Son House, Bukka White) whose careers were revived by the folk-music boom of the ’60s. Eventually she landed in the Bay Area, where she saw McDowell in concert and fell under his sway. It was obviously a memorable moment— this urban teenager encountering the sexagenarian from the rural South who’d just made his first record six years earlier—and it’s a shame that McDowell isn’t able to hear this CD, for on it Block digs in with considerable passion. It’s a solo record but she occasionally overdubs a second guitar as she tackles eight songs written or played by McDowell, plus four of her own, including “Mississippi Man,” her account of meeting him. She’s definitely mastered his “hard-driving guitar style,” and her strong vocals and transcendent renditions of his music enhance songs like the title track and “Kokomo Blues.” This CD is pure ecstasy for bottleneck-guitar fans.