PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Prove It on Me
Rory Block

Stony Plain

27 March 2020

Rory Block is one of America's greatest performing blues historians. Her Greenwich Village upbringing provided her with a solid foundation as she met many contemporary folk-blues revivalists, including Peter Rowan, Maria Muldaur, and John Sebastian. Even as a child, Block wasn't satisfied just watching others but picked up the guitar and played and sung herself. She hit the road at 15 years of age to seek out the greats and perform for others. Despite many gaps caused by personal issues and recording squabbles, she has a substantial discography and has received many awards for her blues discs.

For the last 15 or so years, Block has worked at honoring those that came before her. She created what she calls her "Mentor Series", where she offered her album-length interpretations of artists she met back in her early days, including Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis, Skip James, Bukka White, and Mississippi John Hurt. This is a who's who of the country blues masters. The fact that she learned directly from all of them speaks volumes about her credibility and talent.

In 2018 she decided to pay tribute to blues women and began by releasing an album of Bessie Smith (A Woman's Soul). Block has just issued her second record in the series, Prove It on Me, which contains nine tracks of classic tracks by female blues artists from the relatively obscure (Rosetta Howard, Arizona Dranes) to the more well-known (Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Memphis Minnie) as well as one self-penned gem ("Eagles"). The songs range from the bawdy to the religious and convey the diversity of elements within the blues tradition. They share one thing in common: they express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and the larger American society. They are proud women who refuse to accept their social status as inferior beings.

Block had a treasure trove of material to choose from, and she selected some tasty nuggets. There's not a bad song on the album, and each one is performed masterly with grit and gumption. Block provides all the vocals, all the guitar work—including slide and playing the bass notes on the guitar, drums, and percussion. Block is literally a one-woman band, in addition to co-producing the disc with Rob Davis. Highlights include the slithering, sexy "It's Red Hot" (Madilyn Davis), the solemn "Motherless Child" (Elvie Thomas), the gospel "Wayward Girl" (Lottie Kimbrough) and the boisterous "He May Be Your Man" (Helen Hume).

Block also does a bittersweet version of the most well-known song here, Memphis Minnie's "In My Girlish Days". Block doesn't play it coy but instead looks back coolly at her past. That matches well with Block's autobiographical contribution. "Eagles" looks at past hardships without saccharine nostalgia. Instead, she expresses pride in being a survivor. She has more than endured. She has found peace through her music. Block may not be the first person to find a home in the blues. There's room enough for all, she notes, and she invites us in.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.