John Swenson’s liner notes to "St. Louis Blues" expresses it succinctly: "Archie Shepp, one of the most strident voices of the jazz revolution that took place in the 1960s, is best known for his high energy expressionism on the tenor saxophone, but his conception has always been founded on the African Diaspora touchstones of gospel and blues." Indeed, "St. Louis Blues" is rooted deep in the blues: a primal expression of despair emanating from the African American’s history from slave to citizen. "St. Louis Blues" can be played as a soundtrack to LeRoi Jones’ (Amira Baraka) classic jazz history, "Blues People."
Through his music, Shepp has consistently expressed political outrage with emotional distress. "St. Louis Blues" follows suit using original compositions with classic standards, but it also quietly contemplative at times juxtaposing Shepp’s tenor saxophone with only one other instrument. The extraordinary music is heartfelt, brooding with subterranean rage and sorrow.
Shepp’s ‘Limbuke’ uses a rhythmic finger piano and then bongo drums to accompany his expressive tenor saxophone that touches raw electric nerves. The title track, originally written by W.C. Handy in 1914, uses a strong heartbeat bass provided by Richard Davis to accentuate the deep blues playing and singing by Shepp. Like his playing, his singing is dirty, sweet and rough. Kenny Dorham’s ‘Blue Bossa’ is not played with a light Latin lilt, but a barrel bottom sound that is both beautiful and gutsy. Again, Shepp and Davis trade rich solos back and forth as if in reflective conversation. Billie Holiday’s ‘God Bless the Child’ may be the crowning achievement: it is played so sadly, so regretfully that it cuts deeply down to the bone. Or it may be Davis’ ‘Total Package,’ a sublime recitation and exploration of the blues.