Heritage Blues Orchestra ‘And still I rise’ (Raisin’ Music) 4/5

If blues is not really your bag, think again for what we have here is predominantly acoustic folk-blues with a difference. The Heritage Blues Orchestra are a ten piece band that are overwhelmingly American in terms of line up, but with a Franco-American production team, and this gives the album a more historical feel on the rich blues tradition and a nice balance between acoustic and electric approaches to the genre. A killer acoustic tune is the terrific trombone-led version of ‘C-Line woman’, which Nina Simone once performed so wonderfully, but here with the gorgeous vocals of Chaney Sims on lead and some fine call and response background vocals into the bargain. Slide guitar and harmonica combine well on the gentle paced ‘Going uptown’, another acoustic number with some nice brass work. Standards include compositions by Son House, Muddy Waters and Leadbelly no less and for the former a storming version of ‘Clarksdale moan’ features some impassioned male lead vocals while Muddy’s ‘Catfish blues’ is given the Chicago electric treatment with the orchestra in full flow. Early blues from the field holler are present on a mournful interpretation of ‘Go down Hannah’ that is captured beautifully by Chaney Sims. More acoustic folk-blues emerge on ‘Big legged woman’ and on ‘Chilly Jordan’ while electric blues surface again on a co-written Eric Bibb song ‘Don’t ever let nobody drag your spirit down’. This may be too late for this year’s Blues Awards that have recently taken place, but will surely be a prime contender for folk-blues album for 2013. Tim Stenhouse