- Helen Casabona at St. Mikes
Helen Casabona loves the blues. Not the contemporary electric blues
that forged in the northern urban Ghetto's, but the root, rural,
folk blues of the south. Helen's musical heroes are Skip James,
Robert Johnson, Rev Gary Davis and other less well known creators
of the form. She is also influenced by Jorma Kaukonen's syncopated,
powerful guitar style and the butter smooth stylings of Doc Watson.
Casabona performed at St. Michael's Art Cafe on a Thursday to an
attentive and respectful crowd.
She led off with one of my favorite tunes of all time " I
know You Rider" and a fine show was underway. Her version was
traditional without being stale and her guitar playing borders on
the phenomenal. Listening to Helen play the guitar makes one realize
why one of the nicknames of the instrument is "The Poor Man's
Piano" because she made the box sound like a band. Her beautiful
Taylor Guitar was in fine tone and carried throughout the room with
only some help from the PA system. The music of the Twenties and
Thirties seems to be her primary focus. The almost forgotten voice
of Memphis Minnie singing "In My Girlish Days" recorded
in the Twenties was recalled, then Blind Lemon Jefferson's "
See That My Grave Is Kept Clean". Helen traveled from standards
to the obscure and demonstrated the relationship between them.
A friend who was at the show whispered to me that Casabona's voice
was "too good for the blues". I do not agree with that,
but she does have a clear wide-ranging soprano that does not always
jibe with the image of the traditional gritty, earthy tones of a
Bessie Smith or Etta James. Helen can, and sometimes does veer a
considerable distance from the blues. I thought that one of the
most moving parts of her performance was her own "When Teardrops
Fall", a slow, sensuous number that showed the intense expressive
quality of her voice outside the blues style.
Helen also plays the piano with a rare and fine style. She and
her Yamaha DX Keyboard set up on the stage. I remember when these
Piano Emulators first appeared in the late seventies when they revolutionized
on- stage piano sound. The first true piano sound in an electronic
"box". The sound is still amazing and Helen used it to
great effect. Casabona performed a number of boogie-woogie piano
pieces including "Helen's Boogie" from her CD. These works
almost take one back to the Saloon sound of the Old West or the
Barrelhouse sound of the Turn-of-the Century Music Hall.
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening at St. Mikes Cafe. Helen finished
her regular set with another of my favorite songs "Death Don't
Have No Mercy" by Rev. Gary Davis. What a sentiment and what
truth. Many of the songs that Helen performed can be found on her
naturally recorded CD "Sitting On the Curbstone". The
performance finished at about 10:45- don't forget the tip jar. -