Live Featuring Laura Chavez
Hensley’s name is the prominent one on the jacket but also note “Featuring Laura Chavez.” Chavez is a world- renowned guitarist who played with the late Candye Kane and has been hailed by folks like Ronnie Earl as one our best. This is a showcase for her dazzling, often mind-blowing guitar work as the live setting and some lengthy tracks give her plenty of room to solo.
Hensley is a 25-year-old blues belter in the mode of Janis making her debut and turning heads in the process. Eight of the eleven tracks are covers from the like of Big Mama Thornton, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Koko Taylor, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Three are Hensley originals. Kane’s son, Evan Caleb Yearsley, is the drummer. The band also included saxophonist Johnny Viau, and bassist Marcos C. The band hails from the San Diego area and, as the album is dedicated to Kane, you could say they are carrying on her legacy in a sense.
Hensley started singing at the age of five and was in the studio at age nine, recognized as a child prodigy who grew up listening to Etta, Ella, Aretha, Janis and, of course, Otis, Ray, the Allmans, and many others. It’s no wonder she is a powerhouse. Often when a vocalist covers Big Mama and Janis, she comes across as overwrought and trying just a bit too hard to get the ample amount of grit. Hensley slips into that area occasionally too but for the most part, she can tell that it’s not her first rodeo doing this material.
The album kicks off with Thornton’s “Big Mama’s Coming Home,” giving the listener an immediate sense of Hensley’s massive pipes and Chavez’s scorching guitar. They follow with the almost eight-minute-long Hensley penned “Put Your Lovin’ Where It Belongs,” with two slow burning guitar excursions for Chavez, egged on by both the audience and Yearsley’s propulsive drumming. Most of the tunes follow similarly giving relatively equal space to Hensley and Chavez. The next set of three tunes feature some nice sax soloing by Viau and perhaps the best vocal performance follows with the Hensley penned ballad, “Don’t Want It To Stop.” Her rockabilly penned “Hot! Hot! Hot!” is a rockabilly rave-up for Chavez. The seemingly requisite closer is, of course, a nine minute “Ball and Chain” with Chavez and band rendering it more cleanly (which is not saying much) than the Big Brother & The Holding Company version. They have the audience in a frenzy.
Again, the album is as much an introduction to a rising powerhouse vocalist as it is a showcase for Chavez’s emotional, staggering guitar work.
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