Latest News

May 25, 2016

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Two new videos of me doing blind contour drawings at Mezzrow, my favorite Greenwich Village listening room . . .

Check out the videos of me drawing at Mezzrow -- and make cure to turn up the sound!  That's the best drawing sound track you've heard in awhile . . .


November 24, 2015

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Shetterly Prize for a Portrait of a Hero or Heroism

Announcing the First Winner of "The Shetterly Prize" for Socially Engaged Art

This year, 2015, the MyHero Project and Americans Who Tell the Truth created "The Shetterly Prize". Entries were solicited from people of all ages and from anywhere. Entrants were asked to portray heroes, heroism, acts of kindness or courage by individuals or by groups. How, we asked, can art be used -- and artists inspired -- to promote the common good? This prize intended to push aspiring and established artists to think about the message in their work and how it might help create a more just society. 

This years winner is Tom Block, for his portrait of Sojourner Truth. 


Here is the statement from the MyHero Project on the winner and the prize. 

Tom Block, artist and human rights activist has won the 2015 Shetterly Art Award at The MY HERO Project's 20th Anniversary Celebration for his soulful portrait of Sojourner Truth. 

This is the first year that Robert Shetterly, founder of Americans Who Tell The, has donated funds to celebrate an artist who has created a hero portrait that truly conveys the emotional power of hero art.


Tom Block is the founder of the Human Rights Painting Project in conjunction with Amnesty International and the newly formed Institute for Prophetic Activist Art in New York. His highly expressionist portraits of human rights activists include Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Sojourner Truth and individuals who are incarcerated around the world for their acts in the name of social justice.


Both Robert Shetterly and Tom Block have put their art- their talent, their imagination and their sense of outrage- to raise consciousness and to effect positive social change. These artists believe in the power of art and in the universality of art to shine a light on heroes and to do the right thing.


Here is Robert Shetterly's statement on selecting Tom Block's portrait of Sojourner Truth. 

I've decided to award the prize to one work: Tom Block's portrait of Sojourner Truth.


I think all his portraits are admirable -- especially because they honor courageous people little known to most of the world --- but I chose his portrait of Sojourner because it not only honors a courageous person but it succeeds  artistically by portraying her passion, dedication, courage and grief. That's what I'm looking for -- art that carries the emotional qualities of the subject. Tom Block has created a powerful portrait and the viewer cannot help but feel Sojourner's strength.


I thank all the other artists for their fine work. It's a noble goal for artists to celebrate our heroes of justice and conscience. Keep at it!


And, I was very impressed with the children's Art. Particularly the work of Rafael Augustin Villadiego Rios (he draws with a sophisticated wit), Vincent Gordon, and every Peace Pal artist. All of these works had finely developed compositions and were executed with imagination and artistry extraordinary for people their age. 


I feel very honored to have met all of these artists through their art. Together we can change the consciousness of the world.


Location: Brooksville, Maine

Date: December 7, 2015

October 29, 2015

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Institute of Prophetic Activist Art

Dixon Place has offered their homey salon space for another semester of the Institute of Prophetic Activist Art, which will fun from February through May of next year.  Although only halfway through the first semester, it is clear that there is a real need for this kind of workshop, and the discussion among the group are becoming every-more intensive as we delve deeper into the individual projects, as well as discuss ideas concerning art, activism and outreach.  A real success story -- and super excited that the project will be continuing on!  To follow what we're up to, please visit:

September 10, 2015

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"The Interview" at the Long Island City One Act Play Festival reviewed

The one-act festival that "The Interview" was a part of was reviewed in the Queens Chronicle:

"None of the plays are shorter than 10 minutes, and in the second of four programs, several of the most successful shorts created irresistible magic in that time, whereas some of the longer acts don’t do enough with their time. The greatest challenge of the playwrights seemed to be creating a story that goes somewhere fascinating. The format’s limitations are no excuse for bland repetition or poor rendition.

In Tom Block’s “The Interview,” viewers are compelled to ask: Will a playwright find a director for his first New York production, or be swallowed whole by her? It’s entertaining, despite its unreached potential. Some of the other acts share its structure (with conflict played out formulaically), but this was the most successful of its ilk."

I've certainly had worse than that!  Full article here:


March 23, 2015

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Mound - finalist at Manhattan Rep's "Spring Fling"

My 10-minute play "Mound" was voted out of the first round by the audience at four shows last week, besting four other works to advance to the finals on April 9, 10 and 11.  It will be going up against the winners from the other five series in Manhattan Rep's "Spring Fling" 10-minute play contest.  The play, "a heartwarming tale of karma, ants, love and America’s favorite pastime," stars Patrick Bolger as HOMER, James Tilton as CAT and Patrick Leonard as DES.  The did a great job in the preliminary round, and it will certainly only get better!

January 20, 2015

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La Bestia: Sweet Mother - at the HERE Arts Center, SOHO

Super excited to be reprising La Bestia: Sweet Mother -- with the same top-notch cast, no less -- at the Downtown Urban Theater Festival this upcoming May (exact date yet TBD).  This prestigious festival takes place at the HERE Arts Center in SOHO.  One show only, so make sure to watch this space.  This work was called "mesmerizing" by Broadway Director Ellie Renfield when it was performed at Theater for the New City's "Dream Up Festival" last September, and promises to be even richer and more powerful this time around. Still looking for a venue to bring the full-length, multi-media version to life.

December 3, 2014

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Playwright in Residence: Athena Theatre Company (NY)

Founding Director of Athena Theatre Company Veronique Ory has anointed me this season's Playwright-in-Residence.  We are currently working on hiring directors for the production of my play Sub-Basement - developed with Athena - tenatively scheduled at 59 E59th Street Theaters (NY), and on gathering writers for the Athea Theatre Playwriting Group that I will run, starting in mid-January.  We are also planning a 10-minute play festival in May on this year's theme of "Undiscovered Inhibitions."

December 3, 2014

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Gazette Article: Silver Spring artist makes first foray into fiction

BOOKS: Silver Spring artist makes first foray into fiction

Block looks to bring medieval connection between Jewish, Islamic mystics to light

By Ellyn Wexler
Special To The Gazette

Tom Block has expanded his hat-trick of accomplishment in the arts. The 51-year-old Silver Spring writer, playwright and visual artist, a Montgomery County native who has produced impressive work in all three venues, recently branched out from nonfiction to a novel. “The Fool Returns” is his fifth published book.

Like Block’s first nonfiction book, “Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity” (2010), the new novel is based on the author’s “15 years [of] researching, writing and talking about the little know spiritual connection between medieval Jewish and Islamic mystics.”

The earlier book, Block said, “explored the specific historical interactions between these two religions.” Surprised at “how little is known about this positive relationship,” which he attributes to politics, Block’s goal has been “to find as many ways as possible to get the story into the public domain. The novel is one more manner of talking about it in a creative way.” He also has addressed the subject by writing articles and giving talks in Cairo, Istanbul, Barcelona, as well as the U.S. and Canada.

Block wrote a first draft of “The Fool Returns” in 1996, returning to it periodically until “the past year or so,” when he reworked the manuscript “rather extensively” and found a publisher. Early reviews have been encouraging. Kirkus Reviews said, “The writing is literary and full of imagery … Think of a Dan Brown–like adventure penned by an erudite Talmudic scholar.” And David Crumm, co-founder of Read the Spirit, a publishing company for important voices in religion, and interfaith and cross-cultural issues, called the book “a Jewish Da Vinci Code, the difference being that so much of the author’s research is based upon his own historic and verifiable studies.”

The established dramatist chose to use the novel form rather than a play. Not only was he not writing plays when he first drafted the novel, but also, Block said, “There is way too much information that I wanted to include for it to be a play.” He acknowledged, however, that a screenwriter who wanted to option the work would be welcome.

As the son of a journalist and an English professor, Block’s writing talent is no surprise. He grew up in Bethesda, graduated from Georgetown Day High School and Vassar College, and wrote freelance travel and feature stories for newspapers until burning out by age 26. A six-week introduction to visual arts course he took in 1989 at the Boston Museum School inspired a love of painting as well as a new career.

After three years of living and working in Spain, and showing his paintings there and in Portugal, Block returned to the D.C. area. Marriage, the birth of two children and a move to Silver Spring followed, and he continued to paint and exhibit “extensively,” and wrote drafts of his five now-published books.

As for theater, Silver Spring Stage performed Block’s one-act “Frank Johnson” in 2007, and his first full-length “White Noise” was on stage at the District’s Fridge in 2012, and off-off-Broadway at Theater for the New City the following year. The stage, he said, is his particular passion “because I can bring all of my creative interests together in one place.” In addition to appealing to his interests in writing and philosophy, he noted, most of his plays have a multimedia element, including music and/or modern dance, as well as his paintings, which serve as part of the set.

Block said he “absolutely plan[s] to continue firing on all cylinders.” He is now researching the “quantum basic of consciousness and doing preparatory location work” for a second novel – “The God Pill,” which he describes as “a thriller involving neuro-spiritualism, some rogue American government scientists now on the lam and the re-engineering on the geo-political situation through a scheme to reverse engineer the human brain.”

Productions and readings of several of his plays will take place in the next few months in New York City, and two Off-Broadway possibilities are in the works. Next up are a reading at the Ensemble Studio Theater, with a Broadway director and Broadway-seasoned actors, and a play in development with Off-Broadway’s Athena Theatre Company.

Only the painting arena is “quiet just now,” Block said, except for a viewing of his huge painting, “Broken Berlin Wall,” during the American Institute of Contemporary German Studies’ Global Leadership Award Dinner on Dec. 15 in New York City.

Everyone’s “quiet” is not like Tom Block’s.






November 22, 2014

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The Fool Returns reviewed in "Books Buzz"

Nice review (and four "bees" out of five" from the Book's Buzz blog:

"If you're looking for the perfect historical fiction read, this one should fit the bill . . . It has a mesmerizing plot . . . The way the author was able to create an idea and promote his stories from facts was truly amazing . . . One thing I loved about this book were the pictures that were intertwined with the story. It was unlike anything I'd seen in a historical fiction book . . . I was really educated by the world that Mr. Block introduced to us."

Alex Ang

The Book's Buzz (NY) 


October 29, 2014

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"A Response to Machiavelli: Three Legislative Proposals" published in the 34 Justice blog

My piece proposing three specific manners of bringing some sense of a moral center to our public scrum ran in the 34 Justice blog:

Twentieth-century political theorist Hannah Arendt said of her friend Walter Benjamin (a philosopher and social critic) that he was a “clumsy theorist.”  Not that he couldn’t theorize and walk at the same time, but that he was only interested in developing theories which couldn’t be implemented, in the messy world of the public square.

I share this clumsiness with Walter Benjamin, and so I am transforming the theory for my Moral Ombudsman – proposed in my last posting in this space – into three very real proposals to begin implementation of this anti-Machiavellian political program in the rough-and-tumble world of contemporary American politics.

Though these ideas might at first appear heuristic (theoretical or exploratory), they are in fact common sense responses to some of our most pressing social challenges – and ideas which could be implemented at the local, state or even national level.

I. Family Legislation War Act

My fascination with the socially binding attitude toward war was heightened while watching the build-up to America’s incursion into Iraq in 2003.  An “adventure” which still haunts our economy and foreign policy today, more than a decade later.

My morbid attraction to the subject led me to write a book, A Fatal Addiction: War in the Name of God, which explored the conflation of war, spirituality and the state.  It investigated not only the religious language used in fomenting war fever in the country, but also the reasons why this framing of this deadly form of politics (which often amounts to genocide) resonated so successfully with the general public.

I also realized how ubiquitous war is, both in the United States and throughout human history.  By one count, the United States has been at war during 214 out of our 235 calendar years of existence.  Hardly surprising, however, when you learn that throughout the past 5600 years of recorded history, 14,600 wars have been fought, more than two wars for each year of human “civilization” (p. 17).

The American addiction to war has many causes: psychological (situating the generalized anxiety we feel inside in some far off “other” and then destroying it); economic (at least 50% of the American economy is dependent on the military-industrial complex) and political (nothing brings a population together or rallies them around a leader as does war).  As such, stemming this gruesome tide might appear nearly impossible.

However, for our psychic as well as social health, it makes sense to do everything we can to phase this activity out as a political option.  To this end, there is one simple legislative proposal which might help stop, or certainly slow, the pace of American wars – and if adopted throughout democracies and republics worldwide, could do much to stanch the bleeding around the globe.

If politicians were forced to vote a single member from their own immediate family into war at the head of the army, they might think twice about casting that politically expedient vote.   From Bill Clinton’s (42nd President of the United States) daughter Chelsea to President Barack Obama’s (44th President of the United States) daughters Malia or Sasha to one of George W. Bush’s (43rd President of the United States) twin daughters or even Senator Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY – at this writing, the Minority Leader in the US Senate) children: we could do much to lessen the rush to war if the vote was modified in this manner.

By personalizing the vote for bellicosity, the noxious pattern of sending other people’s children (usually from the underclass, as the armed forces often provides the best employment option for those who have few of them) to die for our country might be halted.  While it is easy for the rich and powerful to send unknown bodies off to other lands to be psychically or physically maimed, even politicians might think twice about involving their beloved kin.  And if a particular representative didn’t have children?  A sacrificial brother, sister or first cousin would suffice.

This simple law would allow even the most stolid of politicians to appreciate in its entirety what it means to go to war.  Not to say that all wars would be stopped – World War II, for instance, might well have been fought under these pretenses – but the succession of wars of choice that we have entered (and often instigated) over the past 75 years (currently numbering 18 and counting) would have been considered far more gravely beforehand than they in fact were.

II. National Service

My Father (b. 1933), drafted into the army as all of his generation and then recalled during the Cuban Crisis (1961-62), tells many stories about his experiences there.  In particular, he relates how people from all strata of American life came together to live in the shared cultural environment of the armed forces.  Living as equals, these men from rural, suburban and urban America, some toothless and poor, others headed to Ivy League colleges, shared an experience for months, a year or more which would stay with them for a lifetime.  Most importantly, it deepened their sense of the American community as one which involves people from all walks of life, even though they might have disparate political and social views, as well as economic prospects.

This sense of a national citizenry – in which all Americans got to personally know people from every segment of our society – has been lost with the passing of the draft.  In my opinion, much of the political and social fracturing of our country that we have seen over the past two decades might be due to this loss of shared experience.  We no longer get to know each other as equals, in a common American endeavor.  Community members from the rural South to the urban Northeast have grown insular, identifying more with their local culture than with the country at large.  And as our political life has suffered, our social discourse has soured and the answers we so desperately search for concerning everything from global warming to unemployment have become more and more difficult to come by.

I do not advocate reinstating the draft.  As you can see from my first idea, I am far more in favor of fazing out the standing army, rather than getting more Americans to serve in it.  However, I do strongly feel that we need some kind of national program to help knit our American community – far more diverse now than when my father was in the army fifty years ago – together into a singly polity.

I propose a democratizing event that brings all segments of our society together.  A year of national service concentrating on public and social work – from environmental cleanup to light infrastructure jobs to helping the poor in cities or rural areas where there is need – would reinstitute this shared sense of American community.  Taking place for one year between high school and college, and perhaps modeled on an existent program like Americorps, Teach for America or even the Depression-era Works Projects Administration (WPA), this endeavor would help heal the fissures that have been appearing in our culture, and threaten to grow from cracks into chasms of difference between disparate segments of our population.

Not only would young adults at a formative time in their lives come to feel the warmth of working for the common good, they would also be forced to work with and perhaps even befriend people from different socio-economic, religious, ethnic and geographical backgrounds.  This would do much to combat sectarian, economic and racial rifts that have yet to be healed (and sometimes seem to be on the rise) in our society.

III.  Into the Voting Booth

One of the unfortunately, though rarely remarked upon, concerns with our democracy is that such a small percentage of the voting age population votes in elections.  In presidential years, a bare majority of Americans vote – not even 60% of the voting age population in recent elections (since 1960, the percentage has ranged from a high of 63% in 1960 to 49% in 1996).  In off-year elections, known colloquially as “midterm elections,” a little more than a third of the voting public casts ballots, allowing only a 20% minority of voting age citizens (the majority of those voting) to make decisions that affect the whole country!

According to Howard Stephen Friedman (a professor at Columbia University and economist at the United Nations), the USA trails virtually all advanced democratic, economically healthy nations in voter participation.  According to his graph, the United States of America lags far behind Belgium, Australia, Italy, Greece, Spain, Korea, Portugal, Japan and many other industrialized nations, coming in with a paltry 38% of eligible voter participation, on average.

Different countries address voter participation concerns in different manners.  Unfortunately, in our country, legislative energy has recently been expended indepressing voter turnout even further, rather than encouraging it.  One party has realized that the majority of Americans do not agree with their political program, so the surest way to electoral victory is to make it more difficult to vote, not easier.

As Wendy Weiser, who directs the Democracy Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, noted:

For the first time in decades, voters in nearly half the country will find it harder to cast a ballot in the upcoming elections. Voters in 22 states will face tougher rules than in the last midterms. In 15 states, 2014 is slated to be the first major election with new voting restrictions in place.

These changes are the product of a concerted push to restrict voting by legislative majorities that swept into office in 2010.  They represent a sharp reversal for a country whose historical trajectory has been to expand voting rights and make the process more convenient and accessible.

It should also be clearly stated that these restrictive measures were passed in response to a problem (“voter fraud”) which has been shown time and again not to exist.  Andthat “of the 22 states with new restrictions, 18 passed them through entirely Republican-controlled bodies.”

American democracy should not be about inventing fraudulent, though “legal” (in the narrowest sense of the word) means to assure electoral victory.  We should work toward the kind of voter inclusion of Belgium (93%) or Australia (80%), instead of being satisfied with a little more than half of a bit more than a third of our voting age population making decisions for the whole country.

To this end, I propose not only making access far easier, but also moving the election day to the weekend (or declaring it a national holiday); having voting laws administered by the Federal Government (instead of a patchwork of state and even local jurisdictions, allowing partisan election judges to make, shift and change laws to the best effect for their political party) and even go so far as to – like Australia or Belgium – pass a law making voting in this country mandatory, instead of attempting to restrict it to partisan friends, while discouraging others from participation.

Democracy (a system of government by the whole population) cannot be healthy if certain segments of the citizenry are discouraged or even prevented from voting.  Current election tightening – something, that Weiser assures, hasn’t happened on this grand a scale since Reconstruction, more than 125 years ago – is bad for the country, though certainly better for one of the major parties.

We must take the ballot box back for all Americans.  Twenty two countries in the world have some form of compulsory voting, including much of Latin America, Australia and Belgium.  The State of Georgia (USA) had such a law on its books in its Constitution of 1777 which stated: “Every person absenting himself from an election, and shall neglect to give in his or their ballot at such election, shall be subject to a penalty,” though it was omitted from the State Constitution of 1789.

We cannot live in a democracy where some people control who votes, while more than half of the country doesn’t even cast them.  This leads to results which do not reflect the “will of the people,” but simply the will of the powerful.  As Joseph Stalin noted: “It is enough that the people know there was an election.  The people who cast the votes decide nothing.  The people who count the votes decide everything.”

A participatory democracy must include the voices from the vast majority of its citizens, even if their voices are compelled to speak.  If we, as a country, can pass laws to narrow the vote, then we can just as assuredly pass one that will compel it.  And if we truly want to live in a “democracy,” we should do it sooner rather than later.


October 26, 2014

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The Fool Returns - Kirkus Reviews

Kirkust Reviews ran a review of The Fool Returns online on October 26th, and in their print magazine November 1.



In Block’s newest, Bill Willis is a Jew who doesn’t realize he’s Jewish until he discovers he’s heir to a spiritual obligation originating with 13th-century philosopher Moses Maimonides.

Bill grew up without religion, failed at professional baseball and became a bartender, all without realizing his family was inextricably intertwined in the great polymath Maimonides’ desire to heal the Abrahamic rift by creating a covenant between Jewish cabala and Sufism theology. Long ago, "a 40-card deck [was] dispersed to the four corners of the world...imbued with spiritual powers...[to] bring these two religious paths together" by "the transposition of reality—perceived as well as unseen—into numerology." The axis was Cáceres in Andalusia, and the impetus was the Inquisition. Even Christopher Columbus carried one of the cards to the New World. Not knowing that "the ingathering of the cards will repair the original injury to creation," Bill has the final card, the Fool Card, tossed into his lap while riding the subway. Trapped by the prophecy, Bill is soon compelled to journey to the Iberian Peninsula and contact Jews who’ve lived as Christians since the Inquisition. There are visits to dank and dark underground reliquaries, meetings with scholarly relatives, a brief tragic love affair, a retired madam and assorted mystics. In fulfilling this "Tariqah…to acknowledge the injustice visited upon Hagar and Ishmael," Bill’s travels come to symbolize the Fool passing from the Formative World "into the Creative World, where everything is lost in a haze of ulterior meanings." While the writing is literary and full of imagery, the story is extraordinarily dense, heavily laden with surrealistic numerology and metaphors, especially the latter third, "the distillation of destiny."

Think of a Dan Brown–like adventure penned by an erudite Talmudic scholar.


October 18, 2014

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Sub-Basement - Athena Theatre Company producing at 59 E 59th Street Theaters (NY)

Just received the contract for a play I have been developing with Veronique Ory, Founding Producer of Athena Company.  The work, "Sub Basement," follows the tale of a French Canadian woman, Adrienne, an erstwhile poet, who has been sent to NY by her father for one last week on vacation, before she enters into the field that he has chosen for her: Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  Woman.

But something undeniable stirs in the depths of our heroine: the desire to create, to be a poet, to live life to the fullest, the restraining structures of normalcy be-damned.  

The man her father found for her on the Internet - Simon - meets her at the bus station and immediately sets her off on the straight path.  But something goes terribly amiss; Adrienne escapes into some interminable night where she meets a homeless dramaturge and out of work translator; is taken high up in some East Village tenemant to meet a guru who tries to get her to eat plantain chips, undergoes a dramatic fall on the subway and is pursued through the shadows of night by her now fiance Simon, who got engaged to her after she had fled from him initially.

In the end, with the Father pounding south on horses hooves to save her (again, we are to learn) from the creative desires that well up from within her, and with Simon offering to take her to a psychiatrist in the morning, Adrienne makes an irrevocable decision.  And all is either lost or found, depending on your point of view.

We are hoping to bring this play to the off-Broadway 59 E 59th Street Theaters in the next (2015-16) theater season.  Al-hamdillulah.

September 16, 2014

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The Fool Returns - novel in pre-release

Just signed the contract and finished proofing my first novel, in pre-publication and being officially released this December, of The Fool Returns.  Tom Block's The Fool Returns centers on the idea that Medieval Jewish mystics discovered the underlying impetus for current political issues between Jews and Muslims in the Biblical story of Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 21).  They set a 500-year quest in motion, which was coming to fruition in 1992, when a hapless bartender had a card made from human bone thrown into his lap in the middle of the night, on the #1 train in Manhattan.

What ensues is a voyage – both physical and spiritual – which takes Bill far from his banal life as a bartender into lost Iberia, where he meets an increasingly bizarre collection of crypto-Jews who have been waiting for him, descends into hidden “bone chapels,” must leap across the vast space of a psychic abyss, work his way through subterranean tunnels deep beneath the city of Cáceres, Spain and bring the card to its final destination, somewhere on the other side of a bordello in the ancient Alfama district of Lisbon.


All the while, he is pursued by a shadowy figure from his past, a man named “Hoopoe,” who also has been awaiting the apparition of this same card.


For further information about this novel:


June 19, 2014

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Review of "La Bestia: Sweet Mother" CD

Tom Block, 'La Bestia: Sweet Mother, A Troubadour's Tale'

By Colin McGuire News-Post Staff | Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2014 2:00 am

Well, it’s impressive. And ambitious. There’s no denying that. “La Bestia: Sweet Mother, A Troubadour’s Tale,” what Silver Spring visual artist, playwright and author Tom Block describes as a “multi-media exploration of the mother as both creator and destroyer,” is a single track, 40-minute musical performance that takes you on a wild, if not somewhat eerie ride through Block’s creationism concoction. It ends with an ambiguous “Why,” and you can’t help but wonder how figurative and literal that utterance truly wants to be.

It’s not that there isn’t anything to commend in these movements; rather, one must wonder how well such a presentation works without the visuals that beg to accompany it. Maybe some dancing? Perhaps a bit of acting? Instead, this stripped-down, neo-classical, audio-only performance leaves any listener who doesn’t have an imagination wondering what could have been. As for those who have no problem visualizing the story at hand, however ... well, get ready. Forty minutes rarely feels this quick or this cluttered.

None of that is meant as a judgment value, of course. Becca Weiss has a richly perky voice that jumps from spoken-word to harmony-laden on a dime. Paired with cellist Desiree Miller, who fills out an empty background with a palate of colors that would make Georgia O’Keeffe blush, the attack works fantastically, from a technical standpoint at least. The two have an earned chemistry that makes the production whole.

Beginning with lush strokes of gloom that loom like a family of storm clouds over a hot summer evening, Weiss eases her way into the performance with strewn enunciations that showcase the depth of her range. It sets the stage for an intriguing wash of moods that drowns any preconception of inability. The woman can sing, and she can sing well.

Yet by the time that gives way to her storytelling abilities, you almost wish she wouldn’t stop crooning. Nothing against her talent as a narrator, but that textured pitch of hers could have been used in a more ingenuous manner, had she chosen to keep those intonations more flexible. Such a decision makes the end result feel as though it’s lacking at times, a mere fraction of the potential that appears often but not enough.

Those missed opportunities are forgiven, however, when Miller sprinkles in her brilliantly tasteful sound effects. Subliminal in nature, yet imperative in execution, her tiny bleeps and bops — all produced via her sturdy cello, mind you — should bring an easy smile to any listener. They don’t just break up the monotony of the production; they add a layer of intricacy that’s mandatory to appreciate.

Her expertise also helps make the best part of the performance, at about the 23-minute mark, work with a unique sense of versatility. It’s here where the orchestration dips into a darker place and the structure takes a right turn down an alley filled with jazz cats. On a whim, the duo trade in their dramatic flare for some smokey-cool berets and even a modicum of groove.

“Baby, his voice is a wide grin/ Against the broken moon, his chin,” Weiss asserts atop a cello-turned-bass approach that would make both Mingus and Clarke proud. The move is a wickedly fun departure from the classical influences that surround it, a welcome change of pace that all but paints a portrait for the contradicting scenery this performance often embodies. It’s like stepping out of an opera and into the Blue Note.

It also proves that the level of difficulty behind “La Bestia: Sweet Mother, A Troubadour’s Tale” is both exceptional and uncommon. Miller and Weiss wrote and performed the music, and while it was recorded in New York’s East Village, you almost want to believe it was created somewhere within the depths of your own headphones — the whole thing simply feels that personal. An amalgam of talent combines with otherworldly goals here, and it all adds up to one big Wow.

So, actually, check that first thought: Impressive and ambitious don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

2 1/2 stars out of 4

Colin McGuire is a writer and page designer at the News-Post, as well the music reviews editor at His blog, TV Without A TV, can be found Find all reviews plus local music podcasts, videos and upcoming shows at Email if you’d like your album considered for review.