Rory Block honours The Empress of the Blues

During the 1920s and 1930s, America went through one of its biggest musical revolutions. Blues music sung by the African-American population as they faced the most severe expression of racism.

By Clara Bismuth | Video of the Day | July 11, 2018

Awakening was a music led by themes of misery, frustration, addiction, sex, solitude and parties as a community. During the prohibition period, a universe in which rules were to be transgressed was born: people were drinking, smoking, singing and celebrating. To each kingdom their kings and queens, but more than a year ago, it’s a true empress who came to this world. The Empress of blues, Bessie Smith, who wore the crown and title deservedly and became both a legend and an inspiration, even a century later.

It was therefore an obvious decision for Rory Block, a five-time Blues Award winner, to pay homage to her elder. She indeed is also a major figure in contemporary blues. And although her voice can’t quite reach the heights of Smith’s, she sings with such emotion that the result is often astonishing.

A Woman Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith is the first in a five-album series aiming to pay homage to the women of blues music. Recorded in the Aurora Studios, in New York, the ten tracks were carefully selected to give a rather broad view of Bessie Smith’s songs while giving the opportunity to enjoy Rory Block’s interpretation.

Among them, the sublime Kitchen Man, Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl or Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer, which she sang in 1958 on The Blues Are Brewin'. Rory Block doesn’t try to imitate the Empress, but rather plays with her clear voice and, at times, playfully imitates the crooners’ style. Her frenzied onomatopoeia comes out naturally on a rich blues music. She relies on more accompaniments than the old timers could have hoped for. Strings, bongos, wooden spoons and other small instruments, a joyful atmosphere shines through although the very essence of blues remains. There is even a spiritual, gospel song with On Revival Day that makes us want to lift our hands up in the air and sing “Oh, glory hallelujah!”.


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