2012-07-12While this is their first disc as a group, the Heritage Blues Orchestra is a well travelled ensemble of seasoned pros who have all manner of movie credits and stints with the likes of the Allman Brothers, Robert Randolph, Toshi Reagon and Odetta on their resumes. With guitarists and vocalists Bill Sims, Jr and Junior Mack joined by Chaney Sims on vocals, Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith on drums, Vincent Bucher on harmonica and a full horn section, the band has a broad range and versatility that earns the Orchestra moniker of its name. Kicking things off with the Son House classic "Clarksdale Moan", the band quickly seizes the moment and fleshes out the spare, acoustic groove of the original with simmering harmonica and horn accents that add just the right amount of heat to light the song up. "Going Uptown" is likewise a wondrous mix of traditional blues and brass. While bands like Roomful of Blues use their horn sections to lead the way through jump blues and R & B flavored numbers, HBO uses its horns in more traditional fashion: instead of a bass they use a tuba and the balance of the horn section adds color but seldom steps to the front of the mix. Just when you think you've got the band pegged as a mostly acoustic outfit with splashes of brass to jazz things up they rip into a full out electric take on Muddy Waters' "Catfish Blues" and power their way through Eric Bibb's "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" with a passion that will leave your spirit with no option other than tapping its feet. Slowing things down a bit, Junior Mack's "Chilly Jordan" is straight acoustic blues while "Big- Legged Woman" sounds like a Keb' Mo' tune with great harmonica licks added by guest Matthew Skoller. But the band has more tricks in its bag than straight out acoustic and electric blues. Gospel enters the mix on "Get Right Church", which features both smoking slide guitar and big three way harmonies, and on "In the Morning" which features not only a vocal rave up but a wailing trombone solo. Ledbelly's work song, "Go Down Hannah", Alan Lomax' "Levee Camp Holler" and the traditional "C-Line Woman" get a mostly cappella treatment with Chaney Sims leading the vocal charge over a cool tuba and drum rhythm groove on "C-Line". Rounding things out is Hard Times which plays almost like a highlights tour of the disc with a spare acoustic and vocal intro that gives way to a slice of Miles Davis' "In a Silent Way" which, in turn, surrenders the floor to a massively funky horn driven jam. Traditional, yet fresh and invigorating at the same time, this is a terrific disc. SMITTY
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