Heritage Blues Orchestra
By Grant Britt
Heritage Blues Orchestra’s sound recalls the earthy, rootsy stomp of Ry Cooder’s ‘74 release, Paradise and Lunch, tempering it with a dash of Eric Bibb, giving it a unholy mix of back porch fonk and Sunday go-to-meeting gospel soul. HBO’s core is the Sims family, vocalist/guitarist Bill and vocalist daughter Chaney, and vocalist /guitarist Junior Mack. The orchestral part comes in with the addition of a four part horn section, harp and drums. Even though the core trio has no problem laying down hard core, floor thumpin’ blues on their own, the music rises to another level when the horn section jumps in. Utilizing minor chord groupings that sound atonal at first, the horn section chips away at the 12 bar superstructure with jazzy arrangements that make the blues base seem to fight hard for dominance. It’s a bit hard to get used to at first, but you soon realize it’s actually underscoring the basics like a sharp jab to the guts that gets your attention.
The Orchestra transforms Son House’s “Clarksdale Moan” from a low down lament to a funky, whomping declaration of homesickness throbbing with a big foot stomp courtesy of drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith.
“Catfish Blues,” famously revamped and re-titled by Muddy as “Rollin Stone,” gets yet another re-working, becoming a breakneck shuffle with harpist Vincent Bucher trying to blast all the reeds out of his instrument and the horn section taking this one off the porch and uptown with a big band treatment. The traditional “Get Right Church” gets a gospel fonk makeover that sounds cropped from Cooder’s’70s catalogue. Eric Bibb’s “Don’t Let Nobody Get Your Spirit Down” has a stiffer backbeat and the off-kilter accompaniment of the HBO horn section but retains the smooth gospel soul feel of Bibb’s original.
A stunning debut from an ensemble cast of seasoned vets, And Still I Rise is a revitalizing take on the blues that’s mighty satisfying for the soul and body.