Click to hear: “Honky Tonk Gal”
[Editor’s note: Shortly after this review was posted, Chicky’s Fine Diner announced it has closed. See the Web site link below for future Mencher gigs and info. – C.B.]
Sean Mencher is a quiet giant among Portland musicians. You wouldn’t necessarily know it by chatting with the friendly, down-to-earth gentleman-guitarist, but this guy conquered the Austin rockabilly scene two decades ago, and still gigs throughout the United States and Europe – today Chicky’s, tomorrow Switzerland….
In addition to his famed Texas trio High Noon, Mencher’s worked with the likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Ronnie Dawson, Sonny Burgess and Wayne “The Train” Hancock. For his new album and current club gigs, he’s assembled a backing band made up of some of the best roots-music players in Maine, including bassist Kris Day (of King Memphis and Jerks of Grass), drummer Mark Cousins (Cattle Call) and journeyman fiddle phenomenon Zach Ovington.
The 14 tracks on Sean Mencher include a Tex-Mex number (“Vamos A La Playa”), a Cajun-infused original (“Bayou Beauty,” featuring Matthew Doucet, of Douce, on fiddle), and a country-blues weeper (“Crying The Blues Over You”), but rockabilly and swing predominate, as they should. That’s Mencher’s bread and butter.
Renowned for his thumb-picking style, Mencher can play the guitar like chewing gum – it sounds that natural and easy. His playing is impeccable throughout the album. Ovington gets nearly as many licks in as Mencher does on this record, and deservedly so – his turns on the Merle Haggard standby “Right Or Wrong,” for example, are thrilling.
Portland trumpeter Marc Chillemi appears on several songs, and his contributions elevate every one, breathing new life into the traditional tune “Dark Eyes,” and giving Link Davis’ “Don’t Big Shot Me” a jazzy shot in the arm.
A testament to Mencher’s local/international lifestyle, the album was recorded at The Studio, in Portland, and mastered in Finland (where his label, Goofin’, is headquartered). There’s a live feel to the recordings, though the CD only hints at what the band can do on stage, given the opportunity to stretch and solo while the audience swings itself into dizziness.
Mencher’s local combo been playing monthly gigs at Chicky’s Fine Diner this year, on the last Saturday of every month, with WMPG’s DJ PJ spinning tunes, too. Believe it or not, these shows are free. Catch Mencher before he catches his next flight out of town.
— Chris Busby