11 tracks / 62:03
It was exciting to get the new CD from Casey Hensley, as I had already heard a few of the tracks and was impressed by the energy and musicianship that I heard. After listening to all of Live featuring Laura Chavez, I have to say that the quality of the rest of the album lives up to the samples that I had previewed! This Southern California woman has an amazing voice, and everything was done right for her VizzTone Label Group debut.
Casey is young, but her singing career started when she was really young, hitting the stage when she was 5 and the studio when she was 9. She has a solid collection of musical influences from Etta to Aretha to Janis to Otis, and even classic rock artists such as the Allman Brothers and Freddie Mercury. Now in her mid-twenties, with Live featuring Laura Chavez you can hear the results from her on-stage efforts with a tight crew of musicians who are also from San Diego. First on the roster is the inimitable Laura Chavez (you already figured that out, I’m sure), and you will remember her as the guitarist for the late Candye Kane. On drums is Evan Caleb Yearsley, who is Candye’s son. And rounding out this quintet is Johnny Viau on saxophone (I think he also played with Candye), and Marcos C on the bass. As you can guess, Hensley has a tight bond with Ms. Kane, and this album is dedicated to her memory.
This disc was recorded live before an audience at Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio in Oceanside, California in December of 2016. The end product is so clean – the sound is well balanced and the arrangements are tight. Thanks to the controlled environment there is none of the muddiness that you might find with other live recordings, and all the stage energy is transmitted straight to your speakers. The songs include a well-selected assortment of covers, with three originals from Hensley worked into the mix.
Book-ending the set are two songs from the legendary Big Mama Thornton. The opener is “Big Mama’s Coming Home,” and it is sweet that Casey does not try to copy Thornton, as she performs this piece like it was written for her. Her vocal style has been compared to many storied blues women, but Hensley is carving her own niche here. The closer, “Ball and Chain,” is played like a British blues invasion song and it provides one last display Casey’s impressive vocal range, with maybe a little Robert Plant influence sneaking in around the edges. Laura takes an extended solo on this one; the listener will find that her timing and feel nail this tune and her tone is to die for. It is apparent why she gets credit on the cover, as she is one of the finest blues guitarists working today.
The rest of the classics that the band covers span a lot of ground, and include works from Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. There are also a few standouts, such a roaring version of the classic “You Can Have My Husband” (first recorded by Irma Thomas), with plenty of tasteful fills from Chavez and Viau’s sax that are accompanied by the rock-solid back-line of Yearsley and Marcos C. Another is “Hard Headed Woman,” a solid rocker that was a number one hit for Elvis Presley, and it translates well to Casey’s brassy style and Johnny’s honky tonk horn work.
The three originals are as well written as the covers, and the first of these is “Put Your Lovin’ Where it Belongs.” This is a slow grinder that features a pair of righteous solos from Laura over Evan’s heavy beat, This is a long song, clocking in at almost eight minutes, but it never gets tedious for the audience. Then there is “Don’t Want it to Stop” an innovative ballad that allows Hensley to express mournful vocal styles that go beyond what you usually hear in blues, and she really makes them work. Lastly there is “Hot! Hot! Hot!,” a wild rockabilly thrash that had to be the most fun the band had this evening!
Casey Hensley put all the right pieces together for her new VizzTone album, and Live featuring Laura Chavez delivers an hour-long set of solid blues that is performed flawlessly. She has plenty of shows scheduled around Southern California for the holidays, so head over to her website to get the details. For those of you in other parts of the country, you will surely get your chance to see Casey soon as it is only a matter of time until she starts getting festival gigs – this kind of talent and dedication will make it happen!