Rory Block

Rory Block
Avalon – A Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt

Stony Plain

By Tony Del Rey
September 2013

With the latest installment of her ongoing past masters series, singer and guitarist Rory Block pays tribute to American blues legend Mississippi John Hurt. Owing much to the work of musicologists Harry Smith and Tom Hoskins, early pioneers who recorded and cataloged various folk and country music forms of the 20th century, Block’s Avalon recreates the elemental sound of live-recorded performance.

As one might expect, Block’s stark retrospective covers many of Hurt’s best-known country blues and folk ballads. Included among them are the traditional folk murder ballads, “Frankie and Albert,” and the allegorical “Stagolee,” or “Stagger Lee,” for which Hurt’s recorded the most definitive versions.

Rather than modernizing the material with multi-tracked production and newfangled digital enhancements, Block uses much the same rudimentary studio configuration Hoskins used to record Hurt in 1963 for the Library of Congress: unadorned vocals accompanied solely by Block’s open-tuned acoustic guitar, on which she’s mastered Hurt’s syncopated finger-picking style.

In deference to the sanctity of the material, Block’s arrangements remain moderately faithful to Hurt’s spare original renditions. It’s the seamlessness of her voice-and-guitar interplay, however, that suffuses classics like “Avalon,” “Spike Driver Blues” and “Make Me A Pallet on the Floor” with a euphonic resonance unmatched by even Hurt himself.

Though the leanness of the disc’s sound borders on tedium at times, Ms. Block’s eloquence as both a musician and an interpreter of the blues’ legendary past make Avalon a listening experience worth undertaking.

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