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Heritage Blues Orchestra

And Still I Rise

(MRI; US: 28 Feb 2012; UK: 27 Feb 2012)

Oddly antiseptic set of down 'n' dirty tunes.

Heritage Blues Orchestra is a four-piece outfit featuring the powerful vocals of Junior Mack, Bill Sims, and Chaney Sims, with on-target guitar playing and occasional harmonica and sax worked into the mix. The music is impeccably performed; how strange, then, that the record as a whole feels oddly airless. Things start promisingly enough, with “Clarksdale Moan” and “C-Line Woman” both channelling bluesy urgency and stomping, tough-to-resist rhythms. After this opening salvo, though, the energy flags a bit. “Catfish Blues” and “In the Morning” are both uptempo numbers, but the energy seems a bit forced, while “Big-Legged Woman” and “Going Uptown” manage to be technically perfect while somehow missing that essential ingredient—heart—that the blues needs more than anything else. Ironically, it is the downtempo, deep-blues numbers that channel the most energy: “Levee Camp Holler” and “Go Down Hannah” are strong tunes, while album closer “Hard Times” stretches its length into would-be epic, seven-minute-plus territory. Like “C-Line Woman”, “Hard Times” is sung by Chaney Sims, and her smoky voice stands out from the men’s on this record. Here’s hoping that next time around, she gets the spotlight a bit more.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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