Album Reviews

Rory Block

Keepin' Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White

Artist:     Rory Block

Album:     Keepin' Outta Trouble

Label:     Stony Plain

Release Date:     11/18/2016

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Rory Block is back with the sixth album in her highly acclaimed “Mentor Series.” I recall speaking to her about recording the album last spring, and she became so animated about the energy of Bukka White’s music, sharing that it inspired her to write more of her own material for this album than previous Mentor projects (she penned five of the ten tracks). She became particularly excited about how meticulous engineer, Rob Davis, handled the percussion sounds and expounds on it in the liner notes. “After wailing away on the ‘guitar bongos’, plastic storage and boxes of Quaker Oats with wooden spoons and plastic salad forks… When I came back in the studio the oatmeal box sounded more like a bass drum, the wooden spoon like a crisp rim shot, plus various deep toned snares and edgy congas. The different intensities of the poundings had morphed into an incredible variety of tones.”

There’s a ton of insight in the liner notes, from her first meeting with Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White (1906 -1977) when she was a teenager, to how he inspired certain songs. “Bukka had absolutely no mercy on the guitar and slammed it like Paul Bunyan wielding an axe,” Rory says. She renders the first two tracks as originals, imaged biographies of Bukka before launching into a four song sequence of his tunes.  “Fixin’ to Die Blues” was recorded by Dylan on his first Columbia recording and “Parchman Farm Blues,” about the prison where Bukka did time, has been recorded by many artists, notably Mose Allison. In addition to the aforementioned percussion, Rory is playing her Martin Signature Model guitar with a 14mm deep well socket for a slide, heard prominently on “Panama Limited,” which is part talking blues, a critical component of the country blues of the artists of this era. “New Frisco Train” and her original, “Back to Memphis,” have similar approaches. “Gonna Be Some Walkin’ Done” is, in a sense, a collaboration with Bukka, as the guitar parts are taken from his “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing.” As you listen, you’ll notice how seamlessly the blues is woven with gospel through most of the album.

The last section of the liner notes is worth stating here, as I am pretty sure this is the last artist in Rory’s terrific “Mentor Series”: “Throughout my life I have pointed out that Country blues, and all American roots music for that matter, is the foundation of today’s electric blues, Country music and even pop. The same formats, the same construction, the same verses, licks and patterns have remained consistent – from the beginning to today. In addition to the immeasurable debt owed the founding musicians (the brilliant and sometimes overlooked men and women of roots music) – we owe our appreciation to a small handful of devotees who traveled, in the early 1960s, through the back roads of rural America, knocking on doors, in an epic attempt to find surviving blues artists whose recordings from 20-30 years earlier might have otherwise disappeared from our consciousness. These were the days and times I grew up in. I am incredibly grateful.”

Rory Block, as I’ve said many times before, is “the messenger of the blues.” This could well be the best of her remarkable Mentor Series (Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Son House), but delve into all of it to get a deep appreciation for the blues, delivered by today’s best traditional female blues artist.

-Jim Hynes

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