Blues Bytes

Pick Hit

March 2020

Casey Hensley
Good As Gone
VizzTone Label Group

Casey Hensley

I've read multiple reviews of Casey Hensley's previous live album and seen her listed on various blues events, but I had never heard the San Diego blues singer's voice until I plucked her latest album, Good As Gone, from my ever-growing pile of CDs waiting to be reviewed.

It didn't take long for me to realize that this 20-something woman has a great future ahead of her in the blues biz. I haven't heard a voice with this much power in quite some time as she immediately started belting out the blues just seconds into the first song on Good As Gone. Her big voice came booming through my ear buds, threatening to shatter my ear drums. Yes, it's a big voice --- like, real big!

Backing Ms Hensley on this CD is blues guitarist extraordinaire Laura Chavez, who really deserves co-star billing for her exemplary guitar playing. The rest of the bandmates --- Marcos C. (bass), Evan Caleb Yearsley (drumms), Jonny Viau, Steven Ebner (horns) --- are just as solid. All nine cuts here are Hensley originals, and she also produced the recording sessions with help from Chavez.

Opening the disc is the title cut, with Hensley's voice bursting out in a very up-tempo blues boogie that also gives Chavez her first chance to show off on the guitar while the rest of the band races to keep up with the frantic pace. The tempo slows considerably on a west side Chicago blues, "You Should Be So Lucky," with Chavez bending the notes on her guitar, sounding just like vintage Otis Rush, while Hensley shows impressive range as she soars through the octaves. This one is a killer, perhaps the best cut on the album.

Hensley then takes the listener down to the riverside with the more primal "If I Pray," her vocals raising the hairs on my arms. At one point  she holds a very loud note for a long time, again showing how much strength she has in her voice. Chavez lays down some smokin' guitar licks to introduce a 1940s-style up-tempo jump blues, "Be My Baby (What Do You Say?)." Chavez really turns it up on a mid-song solo as her fingers just plain fly over the guitar strings.

The pain in Hensley's voice comes pouring out on a slow, soulful ballad, "Love Will Break Your Heart." Just one of the many verses of her angst is when she sings, "...His love is going to be the death of me ..." The horn work of Viau and Ebner provide a framework for each line, and, of course, there's a breath-taking guitar solo from Chavez. Perhaps Hensley didn't learn from the pain in her heart, because she's back to the hunt on the slow blues, "Searching For A Man."

The horn section takes the lead in the intro to the up-tempo jumpin' blues, "What's A Woman To Do," as well as getting a solo later in the song. The pace changes still another time with the slow ballad, "Don't Want It To Stop," with Chavez turnings in one of her better guitar solos here while the power in Hensley's vocals still again comes out in full force.

Closing out this very fine album is another up-tempo jump blues, "All In," with Chavez's guitar work venturing into '50s-era rockabilly. This number lasts only two minutes and 18 seconds, but quite frankly I was breathing rather heavily by the time we hit the finish line.

The pacing and mood changes from one cut to the next are outstanding, just showing that Hensley also has a knack for the production side of the business. Good As Gone already ranks as one of the best blues albums of 2020, and I can't wait for more from this exciting artist. She was supposed to be playing in our town right around the time I completed this review, but of course all shows were canceled because of the coronavirus. I'll be patient because I know she'll be back in town before long, and I'll certainly be near the front of the line for that show.

--- Bill Mitchell



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