Rory Block is one of the premiere women in blues today. Recently she has been recording a series of tributes to her blues heroes and influences. Previously in the series, she has covered the songs of Son House, Robert Johnson, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Now with I Belong to the Band she ventures away from the Delta blues and covers the master of gospel blues, Reverend Gary Davis.
In 1964, when she was 15 years old, Block would travel with her friend Stefan Grossman to Davis’ house to take guitar lessons. They also snuck into clubs to listen to him sing and perform. That intimate connection empowers this CD with passion and true understanding of the Reverend’s style.
From the well-known retelling of the story of “Samson and Delilah,” with a refrain familiar to many music lovers, “If I had my way in this wicked world/I would tear this building down,” to the somber “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” Block captures the sincerity and authentic flavor of Davis’ music.
Most of the songs here are upbeat and energetic, proclaiming the joy of being a believer. Songs like “Goin’ to Sit Right Down on the Banks of the River,” “Let Us Get Together Right Down Here,” “I Belong to the Band,” “Pure Religion,” and “Twelve Gates to the City” all reflect the positive joy of true belief. Even social commentary like “Great Change Since I’ve Been Born” is delivered with verve and energy. “Lo, I Be With You Always” and “I Am the Light of This World” are full of comfortable optimism and “Lord, I Feel Just Like Goin’ On” is also full of strength and positive emotion.
You don’t have to be a true believer to enjoy these songs. The great guitar work, passionate delivery, and upbeat blues tempo will please any lover of real blues. And the one song that sets a more downbeat mood, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is one that any person who has suffered the loss of a loved one can relate to.
That is the real power of Reverend Gary Davis’ music, the authentic feeling it evokes. And here Rory Block captures that emotion and authenticity perfectly.