AS SOMEONE born in the Thames Delta and brought up by a blues loving daddy, I’ve always regretted the fact I’ll never get to see so many of those great names of black American music.
Thankfully New York’s Heritage Blues Orchestra is on a mission (possibly from God) to breathe new life into the blues in all its forms.
As a result, an enraptured crowd at the Philharmonic was treated to a real history lesson: work songs and field hollers, gospel, Chicago blues, and New Orleans marching jazz were all on the menu as this superb group of musicians took us on a fascinating journey full of cheating women, hellhounds on the trail and dubious looking men at crossroads.
Lead vocals were taken by Bill Sims Jr and his daughter Chaney Sims, and watching the rich interplay between the pair on the opening cover of Leadbelly’s Go Down Hannah was an early highlight.
Adding to the richness of the sound was the brilliant Vincent Bucher on harmonica, whose extravagant hand flourishes added a nice sense of showmanship to the sometimes overbearing worthiness of the show.
Also backing up the Sims were four horn players swapping between trumpet, tuba, trombone and saxophone.
As a result of the variety of musicians on stage, every song brought something different to the table.
Son House’s Clarksdale Moan featured the horns in full effect, stabbing their way through the dissonant blasts of the harmonica while Sims Snr told a classic bluesey tale of boozy woe: “Every day of the week I go down in the town drunk/give me a bottle of snuff and a bottle of alco-rub.”
The traditional Get Right Church opened with some stunning slide from guitarist Junior Mack but it was the father and daughter duetting on a truly spiritual piano-led version of St James Infirmary which will live longest in the memory.