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Carrboro's ArtsCenter kicks off its American Roots Series with two shows January featuring Rory Block and Rickie Lee Jones, two women who have made impressive contributions to the contemporary and traditional music scenes.

Block, who leads off the series with a show Saturday, Jan. 17 is a blues veteran with the medals to prove it. Winner of two WC Handy awards, in '98 for Traditional blues Female Artist of the year and Best Acoustic Blues Album of the Year for '99s Confessions Of A Blues Singer, she is on tour promoting her latest release, Last Fair Deal, for Telarc.

Unlike a lot of white bluesmen and women who purport to channel the spirits of long gone troubadours of the woke-up-this-mornin' persuasion, Block had a personal relationship with many of the icons she covers. Growing up in Manhattan, she had the opportunity to meet and learn from Fred McDowell, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt. She began playing guitar at 10, and took lessons from The Rev. Gary Davis in his Bronx home.

"I can only say that it sounded like the most hauntingly beautiful music I had ever heard and that it spoke to what was in my heart," she says of her decision to take up the guitar.

She had other influences as well. Her father, who operated a sandal shop in Greenwich Village, played fiddle and banjo. His love of old time music attracted the attention of young musicians in the area who were discovering the genre. Bob Dylan and John Sebastian were frequent visitors.

Block plays hard. Utilizing the percussive, string snapping technique she learned from Charlie Patton and Willie Brown, string breaking is a regular occurrence in a Block concert. She bears down so much that her guitars are reinforced so she doesn't break a strut.

The show starts at 8 p.m. For information, call the box office at 929-2787 ext. 101 or www.artscenterlive.org EndBlock

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