Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lauren Sheehan – The Light Still Burns

The Light Still Burns
Wilson River Records 

“Only a Gibson is good enough” was a banner slogan that adorned about 10,000 guitars produced by the Gibson Guitar Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan during the Second World War. With almost all the male workforce off to the War, the Gibson factory – like so many others at that time – employed mostly women. While the slogan itself was questionable (I’m more of a Martin-fancier myself), there is no denying that these “Banner” Gibsons were very good, sometimes great, instruments. A new book, Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII by John Thomas, was published this year.

The Light Still Burns by Lauren Sheehan is a companion CD to the book (author Thomas is a
co-producer of the album) on which she plays a different Banner Gibson built between 1942 and 1944 on each of the dozen tracks. With one exception – “Hard Times” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings – these are all songs and tunes that could have been played on these guitars when they were brand new. In the CD booklet, Lauren notes these were songs that came to mind as she read the stories in the book and they range from jazzy blues like “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” to “Home on the Range,” probably the most famous of all cowboy songs, as well as folk songs, parlor songs, gospel pieces and some intricate instrumentals (although I’ve heard many versions of “Soldier’s Joy” over the years, I didn’t know what soldier’s joy actually was until I read Lauren’s notes).

Given the circumstances of when these guitars were made, and who made them, the most poignant track is the medley of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” which dates from the American Civil War, and the traditional Irish song, “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya.”

As I noted in my review of her earlier album, Rose City Ramble, Lauren is a lovely singer who knows how to use her voice to great effect and is an accomplished guitarist who crafts excellent arrangements for each of the songs she chooses. Most of the tracks are solo performances but she’s joined by guitarist John Schwab – also playing a Gibson Banner guitar – on “Soldier’s Joy” and by her daughter, Zoë Carpenter, who sings harmony on “Home on the Range” and a medley of “In the Sweet Bye and Bye/Keep on the Sunnyside.”

Each of Lauren’s previous albums has been a treat to hear and The Light Still Burns is no exception. The album title, by the way, comes from a Gibson magazine ad from 1943 – a reference to keeping the light burning while the boys were away at the war.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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