Category: Rory Block

Tributes and Cover Compilations, 2012
Part 1: Rickie Lee Jones, Rory Block, and a trio of metal voices

September 21st, 2012 — 05:37 pm

It was a relatively sparse Summer for tribute albums and cover collections, but we did miss a few during our long hiatus – and Fall has been bringing in a rich harvest, too. In honor of what we’ve fondly called the coverlover’s bread and butter, over our next few posts, we explore a host of new and impending albums for the covers connoisseur, with our usual mix of all-folk albums, hybrid genre sets, and singleton acoustic tracks from multi-genre collections sure to please all listeners – starting today, with a trio of totally folk cover-and-tribute albums from artists generally associated with other genres.

After five decades on the road and in the studio, multi-genre living legend Rickie Lee Jones has taken a number of turns in and out of the folk canon in her long and storied career, producing plenty of folkpop alongside full albums of radiopop, R&B and Jazz standards and crooners along the way. But where too many artists of her age and influence have turned to the maudlin and trite in their old age – see, for example, James Taylor’s dreadfully shallow post-millennial cover albums – Jones’ newest work sets her alongside Johnny Cash and his final quartet of albums, painting her aptly as a vibrant, deliberate artist to keep watching even as she continues to reinvent herself.

Even if you’re a fan already, you’ve never heard anything like The Devil You Know, Jones’ brand new full-album tribute to her contemporaries and influences, a hugely powerful collection quite sparingly produced by fellow Grammy winner Ben Harper. The all-but-one-original covers album is a stunner from start to finish: quiet, broken, dark, and truly folk in every way, consistent and rich with slippery, sultry notes of blues and jazz. Try the broken wail of Comfort You, the slow, low buzz of Sympathy for the Devil, the dustbowl blues slide of Reason To Believe, the dreamy beauty of Only Love Can Break Your Heart. And then consider that the entire album goes on like this, and buy two copies – one for yourself, and one for a friend – because this is Rickie Lee like a blazing comet, with a promise of more genius and genre-stretching to come even as she reaches an age and stature that could have easily excused a well-deserved turn at easy listening.

Equally torn, yet from way on the other side of the origin spectrum, is Scott “Wino” Weinrich, Scott Kelly, & Steve Von Till’s Songs of Townes Van Zandt, released this summer to little fanfare or recognition. The ragged, growling set from three seminal underground metal voices gone sparsely acoustic, a three-way split CD which features the trio trading off solo takes, rings of Robitussin lethargy dreams – neither the sound nor the sentiment that typical fans of Kelly and Von Till, Oakland-based artists who have long made their names as members of doom-and-gloom post-metal band Neurosis, and Weinrich, who is better known for his iconic work in the same doom scene, might expect, and a likely cause of its lack of attention from those both outside and in the world of alt-metal upon its release in July.

But this is truly a singer-songwriter’s anti-folk album, even if it wasn’t marketed as one. And if not all the tracks on this album are equally to my taste, as is often the case with nominally collaborative albums which actually turn out to have been created using the pastiche method, those used to hearing the tormented troubadour covered by the melodic and the past-their-prime folk set will quite appreciate their consistent sentiment, which truly illuminates, showing just how suited the slow speeds, low tones and surly, ragged style of metal-gone-folk are to Townes’ songbook. In my book, that makes the work quite a success overall – and worth our consideration here.

In her long and celebrated career, Mississippi Delta Country Blues singer/songwriter and guitarist Rory Block has drifted back and forth across the folk and blues lines, just like the country blues form itself: we’ve featured her work before in our thematic sets, and these days, the multiple W.C. Handy Award winner is just as likely to be found at blues festivals as folk fests, even as the folk festival scene implodes into indie, rock, blues, R&B, and roots. But I remember her mid-career works fondly from my childhood, where I found them a staple of my father’s folk collection, and I Belong To The Band: A Tribute To Rev. Gary Davis, which popped up in May, is just as fresh and raw as those early works, making it an apt addition to any folk collection.

I Belong To The Band is the third in a series of recent tribute albums to the elder masters of the form, and as with previous tributes to Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell, it’s tempting to treat the album as a one-take throwaway – stylistically, Block hews closely to what she knows best, and surely, after all these years, she can pump out this sort of loose, wailing work in her sleep (assuming that she sleeps with a slide guitarist and a few gospel singers at her bedside, that is). But with equal parts Christian celebration and bleak despair, the vibrancy and tenderness comes through eminently all the same, showing an artist still in her prime paying adept tribute to those who forged the way. For novices and collectors alike, then, and highly recommended for both.

Enjoying the ride? Then stay tuned this week and next for our continued short series on recent cover compilations and tribute albums, with feature posts on mostly-covers EPs and LPs, multi-artist multi-genre tribute albums, and more to come!

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