After announcing her new “Power Women of the Blues” series, snagging the 2019 Blues Music Award for Acoustic Artist of the Year, and releasing a tribute album to Bessie Smith, Rory Block is back with a follow-up that’s even better. Unlike her last seven albums, Prove It on Me isn’t bound to any one musician—among others, the songs here come from Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey, Elvie Thomas, and Block herself, providing a freedom that lets her roam from barrelhouse to country blues, hokum, jazz, gospel, and singer-songwriter confessional.
It opens with Helen Humes’ breezy “He May Be Your Man,” a lively blues shuffle about infidelity, and closes with Thomas’ harrowing “Motherless Child,” as sad a song as has ever been written. (“It’s a unique sorrow,” writes Block in the liner notes, talking about the death of her mother and the album’s recurring theme of mother loss.) In between, highlights include the holy call-and-response of Arizona Dranes’ “I Shall Wear a Crown,” the taunting lesbian defiance of Rainey’s “Prove It on Me,” the heart-hardened weariness of Lottie Kimbrough’s “Wayward Girl,” and the poignant autobiography of “Eagles,” which traces Block’s path from unwanted child to successful blues singer.
Recording solo, Block multitracks herself throughout, playing rhythm, bass, slide, and percussion on acoustic guitar, along with singing lead/harmony vocals and keeping time on a pair of oatmeal boxes. Co-produced at home by Block and husband Rob Davis, the sound is warm, precise, and beautifully lived-in, giving each note its own clarity and showcasing Block’s playing and singing to perfection.