Rory Block Concert Review

[1 March 1997]


Chuck Doswell

It was my good fortune to attend the Saturday night (1 March) Rory Block concert at Rocky's in Bricktown (Oklahoma City) - this gig was put on by Moran Productions of Oklahoma City. See here for a review of another performance by her on this tour. To start off, I should mention that I have no credentials as a critic, except that I enjoy music and I love the blues. I make no pretense of being an expert in any aspect of the music, and I now regret that I can't supply many of the details about what songs were performed, who was on what instrument, or whatever. Nevertheless, I am moved to write these words because it was such a great musical experience.

The venue, Rocky's in Bricktown, was a great place to experience this event (plus the buffet and beer were excellent and prices were quite reasonable!). My young friend, Dave Schultz, managed to get me and my wife a great table right up front and so there was this terrific feeling of intimacy with the performers. The opening act began more or less right on time (8 p.m.) ... a very nice solo performance by the singer-guitarist-songwriter Frank Christian. I am astounded I knew so little about this very talented performer, and his playing and singing were excellent. I definitely will want to know more about him. His style is vaguely reminiscent of the 1960s folk genre, with acoustic guitar and mature subject matter. I think he deserves more recognition, although I may be a poor judge of public taste, especially of the "masses," who seem not to be interested in thoughtful lyrics and intimate style. I connect him with Gordon Lightfoot, in terms of style and content ... could a Gordon Lightfoot ever make it big in the 90s? I hope Frank Christian "makes it."

Anyway, Rory came on more or less on time (at 9 p.m.) and began the solo portion of her performance. I had managed to catch an interview with her on the weekend blues programming (KGOU radio) we are privileged to have here in Norman/Oklahoma City [Long live the Oklahoma Blues Society!], so I had some notion about Rory's musical past. She has had a long love affair with traditional blues, and as a teenager was influenced by some of the real Mississippi delta blues greats (Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Son Seals, etc.). Now she wants to preserve the traditions of those mostly-unrecognized black musicians. But she indicated on the radio program that her gigs tend to be more diverse than down-and-dirty blues. And so this performance was. Her solo performance certainly featured her normal acoustic blues. Her guitar work is wonderful, adding a deep rhythmic beat by hitting the guitar with her picking hand. She even did some limited slide work. Her singing is energetic, full of feeling and realism. More than just a blues singer, she did folksy things, some ballad-like songs, and even an a cappella number that just filled the venue. She sings and performs with her whole body and soul. Wonderful! A REAL performer! It's clear that her life's experiences find their way into her songs, and even when she covers a blues classic, she puts her own stamp on it. On and on it went, an eclectic program that centered on, but was not limited to the blues. After more than an hour, she took a short, well-deserved break.

Since I had heard about it on the radio, I was prepared for what came next ... she brought out a backing band, with an electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, and drums. The keyboardist was her son ... the rest were all from Woodstock, NY and sadly I don't have their names. [Some Okie redneck shouted from the audience that the band was "a bunch of Yankees!" but didn't have the nerve to repeat it (thank goodness!) when Rory asked what he said.] They started the set with "Mississippi Bottom Blues" ... this just blew me away. I surely wanted them to keep that song going the rest of the night!! In comparison to the live performance, the good version of this song on her new album "Tornado" pales to mediocrity ... I often find myself disappointed with live performances, especially after hearing the album several times. In this case, I was just bowled over by the live version and, while the album version is fine, it will always suffer by comparison, in my view. The rest of the set continued the eclectic theme of the first set, including some occasional sparkling feature solo riffs on the electric guitar, and creditable solo features on the bass guitar and keyboards. By the time the encore was over [following a standing-o at the end of the set], I was astonished to see that she had been playing for nearly 3 hours straight, with only a short break [and occasional tuning problems ... she is hard on her guitar!]. I am a bit disappointed she didn't perform "The Last Leviathan" from "Tornado" but otherwise the second set was what I guess is now typical of Rory Block. The sound system had problems all night, but it apparently was worse up on the stage than it was in the house. This minor annoyance [for us] was totally offset by the energy and quality of Rory's performance.

Rory and her husband Eugene were selling CD's in the back ... curiously, they couldn't take plastic and had no change for even $20 bills. This problem eventually took care of itself and I believe the CD's sold pretty briskly. I bought 3 and will get more. I am listening even as I type this review and I think "When a Woman Gets the Blues" is quite worthy of the awards it has been getting. Being a storm person, it is inevitable that I will be listening to "Tornado" on my storm chases from now on! Rory autographed CD's for anyone who wanted an autograph ... a gracious lady with too much talent not to be playing in front of HUGE audiences, making big bucks. But if she gets there, I'll always be glad to have caught her in this intimate performance and I'm pretty sure this lady will not get her head turned by fame and fortune. I was fortunate enough to catch John Mayall [a blues man who stuck by his guns and eventually has achieved some measure of fame] in a dinner theater in Boulder, Colorado ... Rory's performance suggests she will continue to like to play in at least some small venues, even if she gets to play for mass audiences.

I was sort of surprised at the "sit on our hands" aspect of the audience ... Rory's music sure wanted me to get up and make whatever movements I can muster (what I do could not be dignified by the word "dancing"!) to get into the music. You can bet I'll be following this lady's music ... if you missed this concert and you like the blues, if you like a diverse mix of music, and if you like great songs by a real person, then never miss a Rory Block concert again!