PROVE IT ON ME
Channeling The Spirit of Female Fore-bearers of The Blues.
How does anyone keep up with Rory Block’s recorded output? She’s released so many albums I doubt even she can remember some of them.
I’m only 4 albums in; and each is significantly different to the others yet somehow manages to keep the quality really high; this lady doesn’t compromise and certainly doesn’t ‘go through the motions’ like several of her contempories that I could name and shame.
PROVE IT ON ME is the second album in a series she’s recording celebrating the work of Female Blues artists that span the generations under the title of ‘Power Women of the Blues’.
Opening song He May Be Your Man will make casual listeners sit bolt upright the first time they hear it! It certainly isn’t your average ‘cheating song’ as it’s from the point of view of the ‘other woman’ in a lover’s tryst; and Rory inhabits the character like a second skin; and her beautifully weathered voice and sublime bottleneck guitar playing combine for an extraordinary three minutes.
That song is credited to one Helen Humes; who like the majority of other artistes that Rory is ‘celebrating’ here; is a new name to me. But that’s the whole point I guess; because I’m now legally bound to dig deep and research the originals.
While this is Acoustic Blues; Rory still manages to dabble in several different genres; with Rosetta Howard’s Your a Viper is a century old tune extolling the virtues ‘smoking a spliff’ but doesn’t sound dated at all; and two songs later there’s the beautiful Gospel song, I Shall Wear a Crown which in turn is followed by Rory’s own dark and deeply personal Eagles; and fits in quite perfectly with the historical songs either side of it.
I only recognise two names here; ‘Ma’ Rainey and the indubitable Memphis Minnie with Ma’s Prove It On Me being the title track for a very good reason; it’s heartbreaking and meaningful in equal measures; while Rory takes Memphis Minnie’s In My Girlish Days down a few notches until it becomes a powerful lament accompanied by some awesome slide playing too.
I adore the metaphorical It’s Red Hot; and for a song first heard in 1928; it could easily be a ramped and vamped up and sung on the Chitlin’ Circuit by someone like Miss Jody or Sheba Potts Wright; but Rory Block strips it right back to sinew and bones without losing an ounce of nuance.
I was very tempted to make Motherless Child my Favourite Song; partly because it’s wonderful; but mostly because I recognised it; although not in this very brittle format.
But there’s another song here that sort of sums up the need for Rory Block to bring these songs back to the world in 2020. I’ve never heard of Lottie Kimbrough before hearing Rory summoning up her spirit in Wayward Girl Blues; which magnificently combines a sad Folk Tale with a slow Gospellish melody built around some of the finest acoustic guitar playing you may hear this year. So; Wayward Girl is my Favourite Song here.
I’ve loved every minute of this album; but find it very sad that without Rory Block bringing them back to life; these songs would just be sitting around gathering dust; whereas plenty of very average Male artists from the same generation; who appropriated many of ‘their songs’ are lauded today by musicians and journalists alike.
Released March 27th 2020