The Light Still Burns
Wilson River Records

This new CD by Lauren Sheehan is the companion piece to a book written by John Thomas titled, “Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary & Gibson’s ‘Banner’ Guitars of World War II.” Gibson Guitars have stated in the past that during the War production of their instruments had ceased. But in reality some 9000 guitars were made under the Banner label during those years, which is in fact manufactured by Gibson. The real story behind these creations, though, was that with many American men sent overseas to fight, the production was handled mostly by a group of women in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and many with no previous experience in building guitars.

Portland-based roots musician Lauren Sheehan was invited to come back to New Haven, Connecticut and to record an album using these classic guitars. She found herself surrounded by the instruments and the dozen tracks found on The Light Still Burns were all recorded with a different guitar on each number.

The song selections include many traditional Americana songs such as “Old Folk At Home,” “America The Beautiful” and “When Johnny comes Marching Home.” Songs that were probably well-known by the makers and players of these instruments. There are also a handful of period pieces that were originally recorded during this time frame, such as “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” and “In The Sweet Bye And Bye/Keep On The Sunny Side.” Many of her interpretations of the songs were influenced by artists who Lauren has had connections with over the years like John Jackson and Cephas & Wiggins. “C Medley” is a collection of songs by Etta Baker and Lauren does a remarkable job at recreating the famed guitarist’s work. The disc also includes a newer track written by Gillian Welch called “Hard Times.”

Overall, the sound quality of these guitars is amazing. Lauren’s playing is impeccable and her voice suits the numbers especially well. The Light Still Burns is a nice reflection of music from our country’s past that still can bear meaning. The story of the Kalamazoo Gals is also exceptional and this album will keep the sound and legend of their work alive.

Total Time: 37:28

I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate / Precious Lord / Old Folks At Home / Bearcat Blues / C Medley / In The Sweet Bye And Bye – Keep On The Sunny Side / Soldier’s Joy / When Johnny Comes Marching Home – Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya / America The Beautiful / Home On The Range / Hard Times / My Baby’s So Sweet

Jim Mesi Band CD coverI’m Ready
Self Produced

 The Jim Mesi Band is back with their first new recording after several years and it is definitely a winner on all counts. I’m Ready is packed full of song selections, many that the band has showcased for a number of years, with rocking numbers next to soul and blues, all featuring superb instrumentation from the band.

Jim Mesi is a legend on the West Coast for his guitar tone and phrasing. His solos are highly imaginative and interesting every time out. Even if a song may be a tried and true standard that you’ve heard a hundred times before, Mesi can lay down a guitar pattern that will make you turn your head and note that it is something new that works perfectly. And he does just that multiple times on I’m Ready.

The band works like a well-timed engine. There are no misses or pings to be found. A true ensemble that feeds off one another musically to a tee. Ed Neumann’s keyboards are a great foil to Mesi’s guitar, blending naturally, while the rhythm section is solid with bassist Scott White and drummer Johnny Moore laying down the tempo masterfully. White and Neumann alternate throughout the disc on vocals and horn fills are provided by saxophonists Al Zion and Pete Moss.

The song offerings are terrific, with highlight covers including The Neville Brothers’ classic “Yellow Moon,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain” and “Can I Change My Mind” best known by Tyrone Davis. There are also a handful of originals including a Mesi-written instrumental titled “Palm Trees” that offers nice mellow guitar work. Ed Neumann penned three of the songs with “Lonnie’s Song” and “My Monkey’s Move” both filled with humorous lyrics.

The most note-worthy track on the disc was actually recorded by Ed Neumann several years ago, without being released until now. Titled “Blues For Me,” the song is highlighted by the harmonica playing of the late Paul deLay, joining Mesi, his former guitarist from Brown Sugar and the original Paul deLay Band, for the first time on disc for many years. It is certainly a number that can bring back many memories.

I’m Ready is a welcome release by the Jim Mesi Band. It has been way too long between discs and it’s good to hear that sensational guitar playing once again, backed by a stellar band. Portland’s guitar hero is back and in a big way!

Total Time: 60:48

I’m Ready / Yellow Moon / Hootchie Coo / Change Gonna Come / Change My Mind / Unchain My Heart / Feels Like Rain / Lonnie’s Song / Fannie Mae / Blues For Me / My Monkey’s Move / C.O.D. / Palm Trees / Still Wanna Be Your Man / Changes

Better For You
Self Produced

There is no shortage of great blues artists in Canada these days, but this new CD by guitarist Chris Antonik just may be one of the finest releases coming from The Great White North in many a year. Recorded in Toronto, Better For You is the sophomore release from Antonik, whose first disc garnered him a best new artist nomination at Canada’s Maple Blues Award. And as terrific as that debut album was, this one takes it even a step higher.

Antonik not only proves himself as a superb guitarist, he also makes his mark strongly as a songwriter. He wrote or co-wrote ten of the eleven songs, the lone exception a stellar take of Big Walter Horton’s “Have A Good Time.” The guitar runs throughout are ingenious and exciting, rich in tone and never overplayed. He also takes on more vocals with this release and comes across with true feeling behind his words. Some of the lyrics are based on personal experiences, while he claims others are just stories he has put together. But they run the gauntlet of love lost, being on the road and the desire to be back home with family.

The cast that Antonik has put together for Better For You is like a who’s who of fellow blues countrymen and women. MonkeyJunk’s Steve Marriner, guitarist Suzie Vinnick, The Fat Cat’s Josh Williams, pianist Julian Fauth and vocalist Shakura S’aida. Also on hand is The Tedeschi-Trucks Band’s Mike Mattison. They all help to make Antonik’s album a living and breathing masterpiece.

Two discs behind him in his short career so far and both are prime examples that Chris Antonik is a blues star rising. Make note of this artist and take a listen to Better For You; he is pretty convincing of his talent.

Total Time: 48:53

Long Way To Go / Turn To Shine / Come From A Good Place / Broken Man / Have A Good Time / Shake Me Down / Better For You / Nothing I Can Do / Tell Me What You Need / So Tired / I’ll Help You Through

Out Of My Mind
Yellow Dog Records

In the opening two-part “Ol’ Mama Dean,” Cassie Taylor tells the story of an abused woman who finally takes measures into her own hands and kills her partner. It is the extreme and she knows she will have to pay for her crime, but alas she now has freedom for her pain. It is an example of the detailed story-telling that Taylor has developed in her young life. But though she may be only 26 years old, she has already seen and worked the musical circuit for more than a decade, first accompanying her father, Otis Taylor, in his band as a vocalist and bassist, and several years on her own and touring with fellow young female artists Dani Wilde and Samantha Fish.

Cassie Taylor is a strong person and a strong songwriter. Her songs may often take on personal themes, but also like her father, she is not afraid to speak her mind or let her political stance show through. On her debut Yellow Dog Records release, Out Of My Mind, her lyrics are terrific and captivating. She also provides work on the piano, Hammond organ and theremin as well as her bass playing and singing.

Most of the songs feature just her in a trio format with drummer Larry Thompson and guitar whiz Steve Mignano, who has worked with people like Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Jean-Luc Ponty and his own fusion band Tribal Tech. It is Mignano’s interactions with Taylor on the disc that really make each of the songs speak out loud. Trumpet player John Gray also adds the right amount of flavoring on tracks like “New Orleans” and “Forgiveness.”

Taylor does not offer blues in your traditional 12-bar manner; instead bringing forth her own take on modern methods to the genre. She states that it is more a sign of the times and the music influences that she has been exposed to. Who knows whether Muddy Waters or Memphis Minnie would have had a different sound today if they had been exposed to the diversity of electronic music, punk rock or West African psychedelic rock. This is her version of the “blues as a continuum connecting the past and the present.”

There is plenty to enjoy on Out Of My Mind. She gives her boyfriend the very open hint to “put a ring on my finger” in “No Ring Blues.” The life-long commitments that lovers make in “Lay My Head On Your Pillow.” Her sensational vocals alongside acoustic guitar and trumpet on “Forgiveness.” And closing the disc with “Alone,” featuring Taylor on piano along with guitar interplay from Mignano. The song is beautifully done and the perfect track to close out a well put together album.

Cassie Taylor continues to grow as an artist and is destined to take the forefront; as if she has not already done just that already in her brief career working with younger musicians and holding a spot on The Blues Foundation’s board of directors. A mover and shaker in the newest of the blues’ generations, expect to see Cassie Taylor remain in the spotlight for many years to come.

Total Time: 49:51

Ol’ Mama Dean (Part 1) / Ol’ Mama Dean (Part 2) / Spare Some Love / Out Of My Mind (Intro) / Out Of My Mind / Lay My Head On Your Pillow / New Orleans / No Ring Blues / No No / Forgiveness / Gone And Dead / That’s My Man / Again

Where Folk Gets The Blues
Self Produced

In a city like Portland that is filled with outstanding musicians of numerous genres, Anne Weiss stands tall when it comes to overall talent and songwriting. A tremendous vocalist, she is also a multi-instrumentalist who may take on a song behind a guitar, ukulele or piano at any given moment. And she is more than exceptional at all.

Where Folk Gets The Blues is a double CD that offers two musical directions from Anne’s repertoire. Disc one is comprised of phenomenal folk selections performed by Anne mostly in a solo setting. Crafty lyrics that are worthy of top shelf literature. These songs should leave no doubt that Anne Weiss is amongst the masters of today’s folk scene.

Disc two finds Anne in a bluesy setting. Alongside more samples of her lyrical magic on original numbers, she also takes on several well-known blues classics with magnificent results. She is joined by a handful of sensational musicians throughout the offerings, including world class local performers like Mary Flower and David Jacobs-Strain. Her take on Keb’ Mo’s “Perpetual Blues Machine” strikes perfectly and she also presents new, unique and original versions of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Love In Vain.” The lap slide work by Mary Flower on Tampa Red’s “It Hurts Me Too” truly makes the song sing. But beside the amazing covers, Anne’s original tracks are stand-outs here, such as “Looks Like Satin,” “Love Is The Dagger, “Hop In The Truck” and the beautiful “John Muir’s Brook.”

Some of the selections have previously appeared on earlier Anne Weiss CDs and there are several that were recorded live at the River Folk Festival. If you enjoy folk or blues you should find something that appeals to you on Where Folk Gets The Blues. An incredible release from an incredible artist. Anne Weiss proves that she can cross musical lines with over the top results. Where Folk Gets The Blues breathes with emotion and is a definite display of the talents of an artist who knows how to deliver music that is enjoyable and satisfying on all counts.

Total Time: 1:33:34

Mountain / Down To The Garden / Compass / Cherokee / The Good Fight / Quenching Ground / Walker’s Rag / Have Some Peace / Tomorrow’s Gate / Particles Of Rain / Day Of Celebration / Perpetual Blues Machine / Hop In the Truck / It Hurts Me Too / Come On In My Kitchen / Snowbound / Looks Like Satin / Too Long At The Fair / Walk Down The Road / The Ballad Of Mary Magdelene / Love In Vain / Love Is The Dagger / Shadow Of Doubt / John Muir’s Brook