Like New Orleans from the waters of the Gulf, Mississippi, and Lake Pontchartrain, “And Still I Rise” by the Heritage Blues Orchestra is about the indomitable human spirit as expressed in hollers, spirituals, gospel and the blues of the African-American south. It is truly a showcase of heritage — a showcase of the blues and its roots, and from a band of incredible depth, comes a sound that is definitely danceable, sing-able, and ultimately, memorable.
There is a rising in the covers, the Son House “Clarksdale Moan” with it’s thumping Cajun rhythm, a good tune about home; the New Orleans flavored horn section and harmonica are moving! Then there’s Muddy Water’s “Catfish Blues” with its jump boogie arrangement and definite jazz overtones in the horns and randy lyrics. The Leadbelly work song “Go Down Hanna”, man, dig the way this song opens! The Creole jumps right out, and then that horn section massages us, oh man, and the female voice… This set of covers is completed with Eric Bibb’s “Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down”, which carries the story of this CD.
And the traditionals and gospels? This CD is a history lesson of music and culture, with a current arrangement that is, in earnest, excellent. Take “C-Line Woman”, with Chaney Sims on vocals backed by a tuba and hand claps, until the drums drop in at the end. Yea!? That song and its history lets you know that you’re listening to musicians who know their art, their culture, and possibly most importantly, themselves. Then there’s “Levee Camp Holler”, and the very fact they included something like a holler on an album that features a horn section fronted by Bruno Wilhelm and a harmonica player named Vincent Bucher lets you know that these people know their stuff. “Get Right Church” is another song that deftly shows us the self taught skills of guitar player and vocalist Junior Mack, who had his musical upbringing in gospel music, and authored the song “Chilly Jordan” on this album. This same energy is apparent in “In the Morning”, which will definitely place you in an inner city or southern rural church service! Get up, clap, and dance! What you are hearing on this album is the very roots of the blues.
Another rising in this CD is the talent. Their heritage is what makes this recording so vivid, from the life of Bill Sims Jr. to the discovery of harmonica player Vincent Bucher in the Paris Metro by harmonica great Sugar Blue, the drumming of Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, the horn playing and arranging of Bruno Wilhelm, the guitar work of Sims and Junior Mack, and the vocals of Mack and Chaney Sims; this album is a rising up of indomitable talent to merge together to make a whole the parts could never have accomplished by themselves. In short, an orchestra.
The gem on this recording is the closer that begins with the vocals of Ms. Sims backed by the guitar of Junior Mack, setting the theme. Then they fade and a horn section dirge-like, and oh so New Orleans flavored jazzed up bridge carries us in what seems like a funeral procession, before they return to the theme with the full band: horns, bass, drums, and vocals all taking it out on a definite I-am-standing-baby finish!
Put this album in your collection. Let the indomitable in you be stirred with Heritage Blues Orchestra’s and still I rise.