Music

Rory Block: From the Dust

Steve Horowitz

As wild as an Oklahoma dust storm or as soft and natural as the air we breathe, Rory Block takes the country blues into the 21st century.


Rory Block

From the Dust

Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2005-02-22
UK Release Date: 2005-03-28
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Rory Block sings and plays the country blues like an Oklahoma whirlwind kicks up the dust. She's a force of nature that needs to be reckoned with. Block doesn't just strum the guitar, she slashes at the strings with one hand like she's like she's chopping firewood while the other goes up and down the neck like she's strangling a chicken. Except that description suggests she's not in control, and Block always serves as the guitar's boss. The New York City child (born in Princeton, N.J., raised in Greenwich Village) learned how to play firsthand from some of the old masters, such as Rev. Gary Davis, Son House, and Mississippi John Hurt. Block's raw and raspy voice suggests a lifetime of experience, and indeed she's been singing and playing the blues for more than 30 years.

The first 13 cuts on From the Dust feature Block making a lot of noise all by herself. She provides all guitar and vocals, although she does overdub and multi-track her voice and instrumentals. Although the acoustic tunes range in dynamic character, they all share an intensity of delivery. That doesn't mean the songs are always serious. While she does sing about death on "One Way Down" and "The Gate", Block shows off her lighter side on the goofy "Big as Texas", which concerns a road trip home that seems to take forever, and the shaggy dog tale of conmen and deals gone wrong, "Fargo Baby" ("By the way, good luck running down the street in your underwear / Hey, isn't that a dream somebody had?").

Speaking of dogs, Block admits she is obsessed by them. On the liner notes she dedicates the disc to dogs, not just her four pets, but to all dogs everywhere. "If I had the means, I'd have every lost and unwanted dog on Earth rescued and showered with love," she writes. "Maybe someday it will be my privilege to help on a larger scale with land and resources required to make a difference." Block's song "Runaway Dog" has her singing lines every dog owner says to his/her pet, while her ringing guitar licks expresses her love for the animals.

Block penned all of the tunes, with the exception of a four-song suite of Delta Blues found smack dab in the middle of the disc. Her versions of Charley Patton's "Highwater Everywhere", Muddy Waters' "I Be Bound", Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway", and Son House's "Dry Spell Blues" reveal Block's deep connections to the blues tradition. Unlike, say, Eric Clapton's dry note-for-note renditions of past classics, Block makes them sound fresh and new by putting them in her own voice. She makes these tunes a part of her as much as the air she breathes and the water she drinks, and they come out just as naturally.

"David Had the Blues" is the disc's most engaging tune lyrically. Block's take on the psalms as blues numbers seems right on the mark and suggests that she sees her compositions as a sort of prayer. She frequently employs Biblical imagery in her music, especially on the six minute long "Remember", which reveals the close and profoundly rooted connections between the blues and spirituals. She sings about the loss of her son, recalls how others have suffered even worse tragedies, and that "God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that we may be saved." Block sermonizes as if she's a street corner preacher, like the Reverend Davis from who she learned. Her robust guitar playing helps turn her invocations into art.

The last cut, "Unprecedented Quiet", is the only non-blues tune on the disc and the only instrumental track. As the title suggests, the song is peaceful, but quiet is too strong a word to describe it. The song is as noisy as a babbling brook, with guitar notes plucked out of the air while a melodic line flows in the background.

From the Dust reaffirms Block's status as today's best country blues player. She has already won multiple W.C. Handy Awards for her previous efforts. The country blues as a distinctive musical style has been around for about 100 years, and Block keeps the musical genre alive and vital in the 21st century. She kicks off the dust and takes it out of the realm of old 78 rpm records as she incorporates it into the soul of her being.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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