Block's blues

Rory Block

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 24, 2004) -- “When I heard the blues it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard, and I wanted to listen to it and play it morning, noon and night,” Rory Block told the Eagle in an interview a few years ago. But Block also revealed in that interview that before she got bit by the blues bug, she was immersed in old-time Appalachian music. “My dad started playing country fiddle when I was about twelve, and I started backing him up,” she said. “We were listening to all these old Appalachian mountain music records, and then we went down south and there was Tom Ashley and some of the old original greats like Dock Boggs, and Doc Watson was there as a young man. They were totally inspiring. And I find that form of roots music is totally soulful. It doesn’t get a whole lot more soulful than that.”

Eventually, Block found her way to the blues, where she’s remained since the mid-1960s. Since that time, she has served as a transitional figure, having absorbed the acoustic Delta blues firsthand from figures like Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt. The winner of numerous W.C. Handy Awards – the blues’s own version of the Grammys – Block’s interpretations of blues masters like Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House and the Rev. Gary Davis, as well as her original, blues-based singer-songwriter material, have won the praises of critics and fellow musicians, including Bonnie Raitt, who came out of the same blues-revival scene in the mid-‘60s. A longtime resident of nearby Columbia County, Block is no stranger to Berkshire audiences, but she makes her long-awaited debut in the intimate confines of Club Helsinki (413-528-3394) on Saturday night at 9.

Les Sans Culottes do it the French way

The members of Brooklyn-based garage-rock group Les Sans Culottes are firm believers in the truism that everything sounds better – sexier, more sophisticated and more cosmopolitan -- in French. So much so that they’ve created an entire alternative mythology around themselves, with French names like Celine Dijon, Kit Kat Le Noir, Mars Chevrolet and Jean-Luc Retard, to go along with the group’s French name – which translates approximately as “those without underwear” – French song titles like “Telephone Douche” and “Menage a Toi,” and French nonsense lyrics. Perhaps these Rhode Island School of Design alumni were inspired by the French verse of David Byrne’s Talking Heads hit, “Psycho Killer,” or perhaps they really got lost somewhere wandering around the Left Bank and came out sounding something like a Parisian version of the B-52s. In any case, Les Sans Culottes perform on Friday night at 7:30 at Mass MoCA (413-662-2111) in North Adams in a “Faux-French Dance Party.”

Funny folk

Separately they’re three, prematurely-balding, somewhat irreverent folksingers. But when David Buskin, George Wurzbach and Rob Carlson join forces they become Modern Man, a comic-folk supergroup that, as one wag put it, “fills the void between the Three Tenors and the Three Stooges.” As heard on the group’s CD, “Modern (Im)Maturity” (Inverted Turtle), the group has a dazzling, collective wit, with the “Mighty Wind”-like folk parody, “Like a River,” “Channel Surfin’,” which combines lyrics about the geriatric set with a Beach Boys riff, and the self-explanatory “Jews Don’t Camp.” A song called “Dog in Taiwan” was probably written entirely so they could use the line “They won’t be full of Shi-tzu from now on.” Any self-respecting comic folkie has to parody Bob Dylan, and Carlson does a pretty good job on “Very Little Like a Train.” Other songs take on the FBI, ESPN, and Internet dating. Buskin is best known as one-half of the duo Buskin and Batteau; Wurzbach won the 1995 New Folk Award at the Kerrville (Texas) Folk Festival; and Carlson is a regular contributor to The American Comedy Network radio syndicate. The trio is at the Guthrie Center (413-528-1995) in Great Barrington on Saturday night at 8.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 24, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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