Album Remarks & Appraisals:
All About Jazz - James Nadal
If ever there was a perfect title for a blues record, it has to be And Still I Rise, serving notice that the Heritage Blues Orchestra is a revival force with which to be reckoned. The group dishes out pure blues, blending greasy gut-bucket, hallelujah gospel, down home country, Chicago's South Side and everything in between. Fronted by venerable veterans Bill Sims Jr. and Junior Mack, on vocals and guitars, and also featuring singer Chaney Sims, this record is a tutorial on the blues and why it is so vitally enduring.
With three magnificent singers, the trio takes turns on lead vocals beginning with Mack covering Son House in "Clarksdale Moan," Eric Bibb's "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" and in his own "Chilly Jordan." Proving he is a marvelous vocalist, Mack also contributes a genuine touch with his masterful slide guitar work throughout.
Bill Sims, Jr. takes over vocal duties on Muddy Waters's standard, "Catfish Blues," the straight shooting "Big Legged Woman" and down-and-dirty "Going Uptown." ... read more...
Q (Magazine) (p.96) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]hey take roots' base elements and transmute them through an alchemical brew of jazz, three-part harmonies and pulsing rhythms..."
Personnel: Bill Sims Jr. (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, hand claps); Junior Mack (vocals, electric guitar, electric slide guitar, dobro); Chaney Wilson Sims (vocals, hand claps); Matthew Skoller, Vincent Bucher (harmonica); Bruno Wilhelm (tenor saxophone); Steve Wiseman, Kenny Rampton (trumpet); Clark Gayton (trombone, tuba, sousaphone); Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Blaise Barton.
Recording information: Excello Recording Studio, Brooklyn, NY.
Photographers: Patrick Guillemin; Philippe Grammard.
The word "heritage" in this N.Y.C.-based blues collective's name is technically correct since, with one exception, they stick to traditional fare. However, anyone expecting a dusty, acoustic, backporch approach will be alarmed by the rollicking, horn-enhanced, multi-layered sound these folks lay down. A four-piece horn section augments the basic five-piece, bringing spicy New Orleans jazz strains to the festivities. Bill Sims, Jr. and Junior Mack handle the slide guitars but it's Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith's kinetic drumming and the zippy, imaginative yet organic rearrangements that keep this fresh and crisp. Smith pushes the beat for a hyperactive Muddy Waters' "Catfish Blues" that features Vincent Bucher's frantic Little Walter-styled electric harp sparring with the brass section and nearly stealing the show. The tunes may go back decades in their original form but the way this group arranges them brings new life to old sentiments that are, like blues music in general, universal. The styles ping-pong from the raw, a cappella prison gang grunts of "Go Down Hannah" to the slide guitar-fueled gospel stomp swamp version of "Get Right Church" and Son House's Delta blues classic "Clarksdale Moan." Female vocalist Chaney Sims (Bill's daughter) is underutilized but pulls out some stunning Nina Simone moves on the percussion/voice/tuba arrangement of "C-Line Woman," one of the album's starkest and most riveting moments. Alternately, the four horns add bulk, bringing a distinct jazz tone with arrangements that are far more complex than just adding brass flavor. That's especially true on the closing seven-minute reworking of the standard "Hard Times," as the song shifts from its acoustic blues first half to a funeral brass midsection that gradually gives way to a rousing jazz/blues climax. It ends this inventive and inspiring debut on a memorable note and leaves you wondering how they will follow it up. ~ Hal Horowitz