Rory Block has been singing and playing the acoustic blues for over 50 years. She’s won a host of Blues Music Awards in categories such as Traditional Blues Female Artist, Acoustic Blues Album of the Year, and Acoustic Artist of the Year. During the 21st century, she launched a mentor series where she recorded entire albums in tribute to the old masters in her field, including Mississippi Fred McDowell, Skip James, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and Bukka White. More recently, she presented a series honoring Power Women of the Blues and offered her renditions of female performers such as Bessie Smith, Gertrude’ Ma’ Rainey, and Memphis Minnie.
Block’s Ain’t Nobody Worried is volume three of the Power Women of the Blues series that celebrates great women of song. This time she’s taking on more contemporary artists and covering the hits of such talents as Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, and Bonnie Raitt from the 1960s through the 1980s. Block does it all. She sings all the vocals, plays all the guitars, including the slide, and handles the bass and percussion parts. While these songs may not be as old as the ones Block is best known for covering, in the liner notes, she points out that many of these tracks are historical, as several date back some 50 years or more.
Block said Ain’t Nobody Worried was inspired by the recent COVID lockdown. To cope with the quarantine, the blues artist started doing “Home Broadcasts”, a twice-a-week live concert aired to viewers worldwide where she took requests and played her favorite tunes. Block claimed to have no great ambition as to what the project would look and sound like. She wanted her acoustic renditions to capture these songs’ feelings and memories for her and her fans. For this record, Block chose hits performed or written solely by female artists. Her renditions emphasized the blues roots of several pop songs, such as Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets” and Carole King‘s “You’ve Got a Friend”, which one does not normally associate with the blues genre.
The best songs on Ain’t Nobody Worried showcase Block’s soulful guitar playing as much as her expressive voice. She turns Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” into a more poignant piece than the original through her use of the slide and her ability to purposely let the high notes on the guitar waver emotionally. One can feel the hope and desperation of the narrator as well as hear it in her vocals. Block’s guitar picking on Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train” also stands out because of the rhythmic way in which she plays the strings. She takes the seemingly simple melody and reveals the more intricate structure of the lullaby.
The bluesier originals, such as Koko Taylor’s “Cried Like a Baby” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”, work better than the more popular songs like Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” and Mary Wells’ “My Guy”. Block is less convincing when trying to sound happy than when she complains about love gone wrong. She takes her self-penned gold record from the past, “Lovin’ Whiskey”, and recreates the guitar and drum parts that were first recorded by others and plays them herself. The song about loving someone with an alcohol problem resonates heartbreakingly with the pain of one who knows she comes second.
The album title comes from a line in the Staple Singers‘ “I’ll Take You There”. Vocally Block keeps things upbeat. Several times in the song, she squeals with joy. But her guitar licks suggest that despite the fact she proclaims not to be worried, something isn’t right. The track offers a mixed message. The world we live in is an imperfect place where people lie and cheat. Heaven may be around the corner. Surely goodness and mercy will follow, but the present situation is much more problematic.