When she started playing guitar, Rory Block was lucky enough to accompany her friend Stefan Grossman to the home of the Rev. Gary Davis and watch the instructions Davis gave her pal. The experience influenced her own path as a blues guitarist, and she pays her debt to Davis on this album with fierce renditions of 11 songs Davis wrote or introduced to the world. This is the fourth tribute album Block has made since her album of Robert Johnson material in 2006, and once again she does a remarkable job of channeling the basics of her subject's technique and grafting it onto her own inimitable style. She has adapted elements of the Reverend's playing, including rolling finger and thumb arpeggios and a driving complexity that allows her to play lead and rhythm at the same time, often giving the impression of two guitarists playing together. Her vocals, always impressive, are full of soulful fire, and her overdubbed harmonies sound like a church choir full of fervid believers. There's not a weak moment on the album and transcendent moments abound. "I Belong to the Band" combines fiery slide guitar, ragtime figures, and Block's sanctified vocals mimicking the call and response of a Sunday morning service. "Samson & Delilah," one of the Reverend's best-known songs, gets a celebratory reading full of jubilant shrieks and yelps. "Lo, I Be with You Always" has a low-key country blues feel, with Block moaning the lyric using drawn-out vowel sounds to intensify the music's emotional content. Her rolling bass notes lift the musical mood of "Death Don't Have No Mercy," but the vocal is full of ominous portents and desperate pleas for a few more minutes of mortal life. On the liner notes to I Belong to the Band, Block tells the poignant story of her first encounters with the Rev. Davis when she was a 14-year-old fledgling guitar player. Her insights into the Reverend's style and personality add extra depth to the songs and make you appreciate his remarkable technique and musical genius even more.
AllMusic Review by j. poet