By Mike O’Cull
Seven-time Blues Music Award winner Rory Block makes magic happen just by playing the songs she loves on her new album Ain’t Nobody Worried.
The record is a set of covers tunes by legendary female artists that Block puts through her personal acoustic blues machine to arrive at new versions that will entertain and inspire. It comes out October 7th, 2022 on Stony Plain Records and may well be the most ambitious release of her lifetime. It features Block having her way with hits from the 60s, 70s, and 80s by Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, Mary Wells, Tracy Chapman, and other formidable women. It’s a big departure from the Robert Johnson/Bessie Smith sound she’s known for but her leap of faith into this material paid off handsomely.
Ain’t Nobody Worried is the third installment in Block’s Power Women of the Blues series of albums. She co-produced it with Rob Davis and their sessions went down at Kentucky Studios in Sandy Hook, Kentucky. Block played all the guitar, bass, and percussion parts and sang all the vocals, making the record a true one-person show.
“The inspiration for this recording was born during the dreaded shut-downs,” Block said. “Being quarantined led us to the idea of Home Broadcasts, which soon blossomed into two concerts per week over two years with an incredible following of viewers from around the world. We were all hungry for togetherness and music, and found ourselves clinging to the idea that some form of normalcy still existed, somewhere, almost certainly in music. After covering just about every blues, folk and Old Timey song I ever knew, the idea popped into my head to reach into the iconic songbook of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.”
Rory Block is considered by many to be the finest acoustic blues interpreter alive today. She learned her blues directly from many of the genre’s originators. Her father ran a sandal shop in Greenwich Village during the 60s folk boom and young Rory was influenced by people like Peter Rowan, Maria Muldaur, and John Sebastian. She left home at age 15 to seek out the last of the old blues masters, including Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, and Son House, and gain firsthand knowledge of their traditions. Block has since released more than 30 albums, won countless awards, and become a respected figure in the blues community.
Every song on Ain’t Nobody Worried is one you know by heart and the set quickly becomes a profound singalong. Block opens by honoring the great Mavis Staples with a cover of her eternal gospel crossover hit “I’ll Take You There.” She makes no attempt at recreating the original track but captures its essence and vibe, instead. Block isn’t here to make replicas but to recall and celebrate the memories and emotions these songs hold for so many of us and get them back into circulation.
One of the best moments on Ain’t Nobody Worried is Block’s ultra-soulful take on Gladys Knight’s radio smash “Midnight Train To Georgia.” The song adapts to the acoustic setting amazingly well and Rory puts every bit of herself into it. She does fine work on all the vocal parts and lays down a subtle, funky guitar pocket that will set you in motion.
Block does an equally outstanding job on Tracy Chapman’s 80s classic “Fast Car.” She adds some deep blues to Chapman’s folk/rock flavor, including some wonderful slide guitar licks that send the song in a more Southern direction than its original arrangement. It’s a great example of how small changes can reshape the emotions of a familiar song.
Other highlights on Ain’t Nobody Worried you won’t want to miss include Martha Reeves’ “Dancing In The Streets,” Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend,” and Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train.” Block claims them all in the name of love and she overflows with affection and respect for each one. Rory Block is the best there is at what she does and Ain’t Nobody Worried is the pure soul medicine so many of us need right now. Spin it once and let your healing begin.
Rory Block website
Listen “Cried Like A Baby”