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In the later part of her more than 45 year career, Rory Block has become a musical history teacher. Her last seven releases have been tribute albums to some of the greatest old-time bluesmen, now she’s starting on the women. “A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith” is the first of a series she will dedicate to the women of the blues.

Smith, known as Empress of the Blues was the first major blues singer on record, her first recordings dating to 1923. Says Block about the early 20th century “just ponder the social outcast a woman could become living the life of a blues singer, going against every norm of society, risking being mistreated, abused, or worse.” All the more reason to hold these songs as powerful examples of perseverance and courage.

Block renders Smith’s songs that much more potent with her all-acoustic performances of them, playing every instrument, mimicking the small horn ensembles that accompanied Smith with her slide guitar and playing percussion from a wide range of unusual sources like hat boxes and wooden spoons.

On “A Woman’s Soul” Rory Block captures Bessie Smith’s spirit, soul and essence, sexual innuendo and all, as one of the pioneering artists of modern music, woman or man.