Friday, February 24, 2012

Heritage Blues Orchestra Is Still Rising

At the last Pocono Blues Festival, one of the acts was Bill Sims Jr. and his daughter Chaney doing a variety of material rooted in deep acoustic blues, spirituals and field hollers. Sims was a marvelous guitarist and vocalist and his daughter sang marvelously as well. It was to my delight that a new recording by a new group, Heritage Blues Orchestra, And Still I Rise (Raisin’ Music) featured them along with Junior Mack in a collection of blues, hollers and spirituals that bring a sophistication to them while preserving the rawness of the source material. This album by “H.B.O.” is produced by Larry Skoller, also includes the harmonica of Vincent Bucher (Matthew Skoller on one track), the drums and percussion of Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith, and a horn section led by Bruno Wilhelm that provides fresh settings for some of these songs.

As Smith emphatically laying down the rhythm, Bucher wails on harmonica, and Mack and Sims lay down a delta-flavored guitar accompaniment, Mack delivers a strong vocal on Son House’s Clarksdale Moan, with horns added during the performance. Chaney takes a vocal on C-Line Woman with Mack and Sims providing a response as Kenny Smith provides the second-line rhythms and Clark Gayton provides a bass line on his sousaphone/tuba. I believe it is Mack that handles the vocal on Big Legged Woman, with the horn section adding musical coloring.

The horns are more prominent as is Bucher’s energetic harmonica on a hot shuffle rendition of Catfish Blues, with Bill Sims strongly delivering the lyrics with some interesting interplay between harmonica and the horns. The interplay between the vocals and horns marks Leadbelly’s Go Down Hannah, with a lovely vocal on this dirge by Chaney Sims. I believe it is Junior Mack that plays the driving slide guitar behind the three-part harmonies on the spiritual Get Right Church, as Smith emphatically lays down the groove.

The remainder of this release is equally stirring and moving. The playing by Sims, Mack, Bucher and Smith is terrific throughout. Smith’s ability to play in very contrasting and different rhythmic styles is noteworthy. The horns certainly are interesting, add rhythmic punch to these recordings even if not always seamlessly integrated into the performances. The horns stand out during In the Morning, and the closing Hard Times. The latter traditional blues is transformed into a three-movement performance, opening with a stirring vocal by Chaney that hints at Skip James, followed by a mournful horn interlude, and concluding with Junior Mack taking a vocal chorus to kick off a brief funky jam that fades out during Wilhelm’s fervent tenor sax solo.

The foundation of the Heritage Blues Orchestra are the voices of Junior Mack, Bill Sims, Jr., and Chaney Sims who bring such a range of moods and emotions in the marvelous vocals here. This trio could do a recording without instrumental accompaniment and be as compelling as they are here. And I Shall Rise is an compelling, contemporary exploration of African-American musical roots.

This is scheduled for release on February 28. I received a review copy from a publicist. And here is a promotional bit for this release.

No comments: