After six albums that were tributes to the ‘rediscovered’ bluesmen that she had met personally, Rory Block’s new series is entitled ‘Power Women Of The Blues’. In her perceptive and well-written liner note she points out how difficult it must have been for women to pursue a career in blues along with all the other obstacles they would face in the Jim Crow South. One woman who would rise far above all that through sheer talent and will power is Bessie Smith. Although perhaps an obvious first choice, it did present several problems for Block: Smith often recorded with a jazz band; she often used songs written by professional songwriters, not working blues men or women and she overcame that possible problem with the force of her art. Block dealt with the first by transcribing the songs for acoustic guitars as only she can and the other two by singing her heart out. In a final note, Block deals with the overtly sexual nature of many of Bessie’s songs, pointing out that they portray a woman’s needs honestly, they’re never dirty, just sexy.

At least for this first volume, Block has not contributed original songs about Bessie nor it seems has she altered any of the lyrics. What we get is ten gorgeous performances in settings that shine new light on Bessie’s songs. In particular, her use of slide on many of the songs brings them much closer to country blues. It’s hard to choose highlights from the ten songs here but “Kitchen Man”, “Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer”, “I’m Down In The Dumps” and “Empty Bed Blues” stand out a little bit for me.

You’ll find the entire package is very attractive, a worthy beginning for the series and a remarkable tribute to Bessie Smith.