Rory Block Boasts Talent Times Three

Local blues fans have learned to expect a good show from Rory Block.

Block has visited Spokane for several years - she’s another graduate of the old Red Lion Tavern - and she just doesn’t do a bad show.

Whether it’s an authentic Delta blues or a blues-pop tune of her own, Block is the real thing: a stunning guitar player, gifted singer and talented songwriter.

When she first started appearing here, Block had mastered two of those three skills. A prodigy on guitar, her playing was never in doubt. Likewise, her singing was beyond reproach - she sings the Delta blues as well as anyone.

“She’s simply the best there is,” Taj Mahal said.

But like the bad leg of a shaky three-legged stool, Block’s songwriting was the weak link for some time.

Her heartfelt songs couldn’t hold a candle to the timeless work of such masters as Robert Johnson or the Reverend Gary Davis - the music on which she cut her teeth growing up in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Her songwriting has come a long way, to where it can now stand on its own amid good company.

It was all a matter of experience, she says.

“I didn’t have that ability to say personal things in a different or interesting way. … I was sort of using a lot of cliches in my songwriting.”

But like virtually every blues musician, Block discovered she needed to broaden her approach to interest a wider audience in her music.

And as her life experience deepened, she found she had more to say.

“I believe that I’m becoming more focused on songwriting,” she said last year, “because I have more to write about … and more of an ability - and I’m very grateful for this - to put it into words that work with a song. In my early songwriting days, I didn’t have that voice.”

Good love and bad love and, especially, the death of her son, Thiele, all found their way into her music and the cliches began to drop away as she learned the songwriter’s craft.

Her most recent CD, 1994’s “Angel of Mercy,” showed the scope and skill of a mature musician. The material ranges from “Father and Two Sons,” a recasting of the story of the prodigal son, to the title track and its salute to new love in middle age.

“The toast is burning!/Smoke detectors ringing!/She’s walking around singing!/Mama’s in love!”

“Big Bad Agent Man” showed Block’s cynical, humorous side: “You got short little fingers and you’re pointing them at me, you think I’ve got potential but you’ll have to wait to see/ Big bad agent man, don’t you look me up and down!”

Block’s own songs depart from the hard core blues of Robert Johnson and Lottie Beaman, the material on which she had built her reputation, into more pop-oriented terrain and she’s had to learn to integrate them into her show.

Every year, she gets better at it, and more convincing.

But blues is still at the heart of a Rory Block performance.

“I can’t imagine a show without a bunch of blues in it,” she says. “It’s just part of me. It was my first musical love and still part of everything I do. Even if I have a total songwriter album, there’s a blues influence throughout. I do blues every night in my shows.”

Like many of the best musicians of her generation, Block is just far enough out of the mainstream that her name may never be a household word.

But she’s also good enough that major league success could be just one song away, as it was for her fellow blues traveler, Bonnie Raitt.

Even if she never finds that one big song, Block’s fans will continue to cherish her. After all, they’re in for a good show whenever she comes to town.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: RORY BLOCK Location and Time: The Met, Tuesday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $13 ($14 at the door)

This sidebar appeared with the story: RORY BLOCK Location and Time: The Met, Tuesday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $13 ($14 at the door)

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