Sonny Hess Band delivers vibrant performance at CD release party w/guest performers at Kennedy School
The Pacific Northwest is home to so many talented musicians; it seems at times folks here are a bit spoiled. It’s this same music culture that draws up-and-coming blues hopefuls to move to this great city. They hold hopes of joining ranks with their idols as well as peers, to perform in a vibrant blues music scene.
One such artist is Sonny Hess, a long-standing favorite among blues fans in Portland. Hess has rocked stages for decades, refining her sound and chops to become one of the cities favored artists. After she picked up the guitar at the young age of eight years old, Hess was already gigging as a teenager. Eventually playing with the late Paulette Davis, Hess honed her craft and learned the ropes to perform live and deliver a show to keep the fans coming back for more.
Hess was the first woman to be nominated for the Cascade Blues Association’s best lead guitar award and also for a Muddy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. Opening shows for international acts such as Etta James, Junior Walker and Bobby Womak has put the Sonny Hess Band in front of 100s of 1000s of blues fans. Hess also produces the N.W. Women in Blues show, performing at the Waterfront Blues Festival for the last 15 years.
The Sonny Hess Band just released a new CD, entitled All Aces. With a great release party at The Kennedy School, Portland’s finest musicians were in attendance to show support and dance the night away.
Track one. Pack It Up, is a smooth blues tune, with a catchy hook reminiscent of classic Robert Cray. It’s a fun song and a great opener for the songs that follow.
The disc moves perfectly into a jazzy number titled No Fear and is a Hess original. This piece has a fantastic scratchy guitar track that runs through the song and lends a perfect background for saxophonist Kevin LaBaron. He lays down a solo that will cause discerning horn fans to repeat the song just to hear his chops. LaBaron is a terrific part of the band’s live show. He closed the CD release party by performing lead vocals on a song that had the entire dance floor packed.
Leave Home is the third track on the disc and it’s a perfect spot for a slow groove dance song. The placement of songs on a recording are as critical to a listener as they are in a live performance and this song’s placement shows the effort put into this release by producers Hess and Kevin Nettleingham.
Track four, Better Be All She Needs, cranks the tempo right back up. This song has a strong vocal hook and performance by Hess; once again that great rhythm guitar sound lays it down and brings in a superb sax performance.
Lie Myself is also a Hess original, with a smooth, smoky groove. This song is a standout on the disc and also allows room for some great bass work performed by Jim Hively. A great live performer, Hively is right at home sharing the stage with Hess and the band. He lives right where he should, in between the kick and the snare drum; all the while, he makes use of the opportunities to add his own special flavor to the brew made up by this band of true professionals.
Track seven, I’m Not Leaving You, has a strong and traditional blues hook. Also penned by Hess, this song has everything it needs to break this band into the majors, regardless of its placement on the disc. If Hess is looking for a radio single, this is it.
The collection also has some bonus tracks featuring friends of the band. Lisa Mann, who also performed at the CD release party, lays down bass tracks and adds some background vocals on tracks 10 through 12. In attendance at the release with Lisa Mann was her husband Alan Marckell, a very talented bass player as well, and a member of Kevin Selfe’s band.
Also sharing duties on the recording of track five, Got–Ta Win It are singers Jamie Pemberton Hess, Dan Hess, Sheryl Hess and Vancouver Slim. Additional guitar tracks where laid down by Jimi Lund on tracks one and eight. Lund was also on hand at the release party, adding his guitar work to the live performance.
Engineered by Kevin Nettleingham, the tones of the fretted instruments are clear and bright and the mastering is top notch. Overall, the production of the CD itself is very impressive. Art direction and graphic design was done by PM Shore, layout and design duties were handled by Caleb Olsen. The entire package simply looks and sounds terrific.
The Sonny Hess Band is a hard-working and tight unit, fortunate to have one of Portland’s best drummers behind them; Kelly Pierce is one of those drummers every bandleader wants. His timing seems to be perfect and he plays with enthusiasm and flair, always aware of the singer and the song hooks. Pierce is a pleasure to watch and hear. The entire line-up of the band is relaxed and confident and they all seem to be having the time of their lives.
If you already know and love The Sonny Hess Band, keep the love flowing; if not, check out their show dates and get ready for a great night of blues/rock and dancing the night away.