Mississippi Fred McDowell. The majority of these songs were penned, recorded, or performed by McDowell. Block also wrote a few originals for the set.
It's preposterous that a white female from New York would be among the most capable, faithful practitioners of an idiom invented primarily by African-American men who were slaves, former slaves, sharecroppers, and hobos concentrated in the Mississippi Delta, but the blues is a culture that transcends culture, race, gender, and geography. Block continues to be among the preeminent practitioners of acoustic, country blues. That it shouldn't work, that absurdity is part of what makes this album great. I love when gender roles and cultural identity get thrown out the window by daring artists with the skill and vision to make it work. Block is such an artist and it works very well on Shake 'Em On Down.
Performing "Kokomo Blues" and "Shake 'Em On Down" is only part of the story presented on this album. They're great songs that have been covered, copied, and re-interpreted innumerable ways by artists inspired by the influential McDowell.
Some may find it odd or inappropriate to mix original songs on an album purporting to pay tribute to another artist but Block's originals showcase her own deep understanding of McDowell and provide context and history that assists listeners in connecting with the album's subject and themes.
"The Breadline" is a more academic connection to McDowell but no less powerful. It's natural to hear Block connect to McDowell musically, being an incredibly gifted slide player with a deep understanding of the deep blues. We experience that connection throughout the record. What "The Breadline" does is connect listeners to McDowell by writing the right song for the right moment because McDowell's blues are our blues once more. The global economy is a tangled, corrupt, impossibly complex system. When the economy is flushed down the toilet and the politicians squabble about what they're going to do to fix it -- and feel free to use any of several possible definitions of the word fix -- the global economy is no longer arcane formulas creating obscure indexes, it's survival and it's personal. So is Shake 'Em On Down.