Hard Luck Child
Stony Plain 2014
Review by David Bowling
Rory Block left home at 15 to seek out surviving Delta Blues artists and released her first album at the age of 17. She is now one of the leading female blues artists with five W. C. Handy Awards to her credit.
Several years ago she began what she calls her Mentor Series, which are albums dedicated to the music of some of the old bluesmen that influenced her career. Previous releases have featured Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis, and Mississippi John Hurt.
She has now returned with Hard Luck Child, which showcase the music of Skip James. Nine of the ten tracks are devoted to his music, with the tenth being a biographical piece.
Skip James, 1902-1969, may not have been as well-known as some of his contemporaries but he was a pure Delta style bluesman. Like many of the artists who invented the blues, he made a celebrated comeback during the mid-1960’s beginning at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Today he is probably best remembered for Cream’s cover of his “I’m So Glad.”
Block has an intimate connection with all of the bluesmen she has covered as she met them as a teenager. She is a vocalist/guitarist who has devoted her life to the blues and now brings a precision and passion to her craft. Her “Nehemiah James” is the lead track and sets the tone for what will follow. It is part blues, part gospel, and part biography all held together by her guitar and voice.
“Hard Luck Child” is the blues at its best as she tells a quiet story. “Cypress Grove Blues” has a smooth and ominous sound. Skip James always had a sad side to his music and “Little Cow And Calf Is Gonna Die Blues” reflects his melancholy nature. “Jesus Is A Mighty Good Leader” finds her fusing the old with the new.
Interestingly she adds more of a spiritual quality to the music than James’ originals but they are her interpretations, which makes the music that much more authentic.
Rory Block, through her voice and guitar, has created another personal masterpiece that brings some forgotten music of the past back to life. Hard Luck Child is a worth-while purchase for any fan of the blues.