As a teenage runaway in New York's Greenwich Village, an impressionable Rory Block had the rather exceptional good fortune of meeting a number of blues giants in the process of being 'rediscovered' during the so-called blues revival of the 60's.
Block has never forgotten the lessons she learned, and she's subsequently carved out respectable career as an acoustic blues artist, with some twenty-nine recordings to her credit. Avalon is the fourth in her 'mentor' series, tributes to the masters she met as a youngster. The focus this time out is on Mississippi John Hurt, and as with all of her output, it's a fine collection indeed. (Previous outings have focused on Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Son House).
Hurt was, by all accounts, a warm and gentle man, yet there's a deceptive darkness and power to his music. And like so many of his era, he was unconfined by modern notions of 'purity' - his tunes are unfettered by 12-bar convention, and there's lots of melody and rhythm in his music.
Much of the fare is familiar - many of Hurt's compositions, including the title track, "Candy Man," Richland Woman Blues," and Stagolee," are part of the blues canon. Block opens with her own "Everybody Loves John," a tribute-in-song, and is credited with adapting and arranging credits on traditionals "Frankie & Albert" and "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor."
Block doesn't attempt to imitate Hurt, opting instead to honoring the spirit of his music. Her guitar work is immaculate, intricate yet percussive, and her vocals are exuberant and unaffected. The project is clearly a labor of love, the subject an intimidating musical icon, yet Block doesn't let reverence get in the way of a good time - she captures the sparkle in Hurt's eye, the mischievous and boisterous side of the man, as well as the inner demons that inform tunes like the stark "Got The Blues Can't Be Satisfied."
Though the material here is all well over a half-century old, Block proves there's both life and relevance in every note. As a fine and heartfelt homage to a giant of the blues, it's an engaging and energetic tribute that should be required listening. Taken on its own terms, as an acoustic blues collection performed by a modern master in her own right, it simply doesn't get much better.