HERITAGE BLUES ORCHESTRA – AND STILL I RISE
2012 – C.R.S
This tremendous album just about covers the length and breadth of African American roots music. It’s almost as if they’ve taken the best artist in each of the styles covered and built a compilation album of modern versions of their work, which I suppose they have really, such is the skill of these three hugely talented musicians. It even extends to several history lessons relating to slavery/prison songs, (in effect one and the same) gospel, traditional blues, work songs, field hollers, R ‘n’ B, even at times having a jazzy feel. Modern updates of mainly traditional blues often means sanitization and a loss of impact but not on this album. Much of the power of the old versions is still retained and in many ways enhanced because of the feeling these top quality musicians bring to the music.
Although they are promoted as a trio it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are a number of other quality musicians that add to their sound, but the trio consists of two men, both well known in the blues field as excellent ‘sidemen,’ and both with their roots and most of their lives to date immersed in the blues. They are Bill Sims jr, who handles vocals plus electric and acoustic guitars and Junior Mack who also takes some of the vocals, electric guitar, slide guitar and dobro. With just these two supported by the other musicians we would be listening to a terrific album but the third member is Bill’s daughter Chaney, also on vocals, who lifts this album into the realms of a truly outstanding recording with her powerful but at the same time sensitive voice. She is the person that links the various aspects of the blues, not least with her incredible interpretation of the traditional C-Line
Woman. She added this particular set of lyrics and the band gives an unusual treatment to this old song whose authorship is lost in the mists of time. Chaney’s vocals are simply gorgeous and heartfelt, helped by the brilliantly sparse percussive and tuba backing, as well as the male harmonies. Starkly
powerful, as is so much of this exceptional album. Such is the strength and character in Chaney’s vocals she could probably sing anything she set her mind to. But of course, this is not a solo album, the two men are both excellent vocalists who could and probably should have been headliners in their own right for a good many decades. Both are powerful vocalists whose voices exhibit character and total commitment and their handling of their guitars is also top notch.
Half of the songs are traditional, with the remainder being written by artists such as Son House, Leadbelly, McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters), and there is a new song credited to Junior Mack. Album opener Clarksdale Moan is a terrific modern day version of the Son House song. It has genuine power with some tremendous playing on this raw evocative blues that is an ideal tribute to
the home of so many of the blues greats of the past. The Morganfield classic, Catfish Blues, gets a tremendous Chicago blues treatment with hard driving harmonica and some atmospheric brass.
The Leadbelly penned Go Down Hannah, led by Chaney’s beautifully evocative vocals on this ‘levee camp’ song, with male backing vocals is all accapella with the exception of the introduction and
is quite spectacular. The traditional gospel of Get Right Church includes some brilliant slide guitar playing on this old song, with tremendous three part harmonies all performed with real power and passion. Another excellent gospel performance is on the also traditionalIn The Morning, on which the three of them share lead vocals on this incredibly evocative and powerfully uplifting song, followed by the equally powerful Levee Camp Holler, sung accapella and could just as easily be a field holder from a couple of centuries ago. Album closer, the traditional Hard Times, which clocks in at nearly eight minutes, is quite stunning, with Chaney’s lead vocals plus male harmonies and sparse instrumentation imbuing the song with tremendous power and feeling. Because of the changes and the length the song almost has a conceptual cinematic feel with part one, Chaney, part two, mainly
horns, part three speeded up funky jazzy blues with full horn section and male vocals.
All in all, as stated earlier, this is a tremendous album that whilst it encompasses many of the styles in African American music it also brings those styles bang up to date and with a vengeance!