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Five-time Blues Music Award winner Rory Block will debut her new “Power Women of the Blues” album series with the July 6 release of A Woman’s Soul, a dynamic new CD tribute to the legendary Bessie Smith, on Stony Plain Records.
“Power Women of the Blues is a project that has been simmering in my imagination for 54 years,” Rory says. “It has been my longstanding mission to identify, celebrate and honor the early founders—men and women—of the blues. This series is dedicated to the music of some of my all-time favorite iconic female blues artists, many of whom were shrouded in mystery during the sixties blues revival, while the recordings of others had simply disappeared.”
Rory Block first heard Bessie Smith’s life-changing voice in 1964 as a teenager living in New York City. “Filled with grit and incredible vocal prowess, it was the ultimate soulful wail,” she recalls. “‘I’m wild about his turnip tops, I like the way he warms my chops, and I can’t do without my kitchen man …Stay away from my door Mr. Landlord, ‘cause I’m down in the dumps!…That’s the reason I, got those weepin’ willow blues.’ So compelling, so honest, so rich with meaning and information about the female soul.”
A Woman’s Soul was produced by Rory Block and Rob Davis and recorded at Aurora Studios in Chatham, New York. All vocals on the new disc are by Rory Block, who also played all the guitar and bass parts on her Signature Model Martin Guitars. In addition, all percussion heard on the new disc – guitar bongos, hat boxes, plastic storage tubs, oatmeal boxes and wooden spoons – were played by Rory. A tribute to Rory’s talents as a musician and arranger was her ability to take Bessie Smith’s original band arrangements and sculpt them for solo acoustic guitar.
“I have always reasoned that as stigmatizing as it was for a man to sing blues—often referred to as ‘the music of the devil’ in the early 20th century—just ponder for a moment the social outcast a woman could become living the traveling life of a blues singer. Imagine leaving everything behind to go off and perform. Could this be the reason why fewer women felt it possible to choose the path of a blues singer? Could it be that society would never have granted permission for a woman to leave home and travel from bar to juke joint singing blues? Those who followed their dreams to become performers were going against every norm of society, risking becoming outcasts, being mistreated,
abused, or worse. The women I intend to honor in this series all lived and died bravely, forged a pathway through the hardest of times, and overcame the greatest obstacles. These musical heroines are the mentors to a new generation of artists who have loved them and followed their example of perseverance and courage. We owe them our deepest gratitude.
“Thankfully, over time, dedicated and talented women—among them British blues singer
Jo Ann Kelly, Maria Muldaur, and Bonnie Raitt—sang the songs of the early blues women, and in the case of Maria and Bonnie, spent meaningful time with some of the legends. We have since lost Jo Ann, but Maria and Bonnie continue to perform the music of these great female artists who paved the way.
“It’s important to me to mention Bessie’s outrageously sexy material, her fearless, jaw-dropping delivery, her unapologetic presentation of women as the powerfully sensual, sexual beings we know we are—but that society just didn’t know how to admit in the early 1900s. Bessie’s material was never dirty, it was just plain sexy.”