Sensory Overload: Shaun Booker and Sean Carney make more from less in bluesy, restrained showcase

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Shaun Booker exuded supreme confidence from the moment she set foot onstage at Park Street Saloon on a recent Sunday.

“I need to hear a little more me,” she said to the venue’s sound man after breezing through the title track of Blue Plate Special, her new album with guitarist Sean Carney, who headed up the singer’s six-person backing band.

In truth, we all did.

Over the course of the group’s hour-plus set, Booker, her bluesy pipes exhibiting the slightest rasp, gave voice to a variety of fears, aches and joys, turning out heartfelt songs informed by the struggles and triumphs of day-to-day existence. Introducing one number, Booker recalled younger days spent clipping coupons as a new mother. “We did what we had to do, and now [my son] is big and strong,” she said.

Elsewhere, Booker dedicated one gospel-infused tune to her late grandfather, who served as a reverend in her hometown of Girard, Ohio, eased into a slow-burning number that felt wounded-but-healing, like a yellowing bruise, and found joy amid the waves on “Sunset Key West,” a warming cut imbued with deep organ where she delved into an entirely different kind of blues. “Deep blue water all around me,” she crooned, her toes digging deep into the Florida sand.

Though Booker dressed for flash — she sported a glittering fedora and a bold, leopard print mini-dress — she kept the vocal pyrotechnics to a minimum, allowing her voice to inhabit the tunes rather than high-stepping through them. Aside from a handful of showoff-y solos, the supporting musicians largely followed suit, coloring the songs with tasteful washes of organ, studied guitar and blasts of saxophone that hit like cooling summer breezes. Even a cover of Tina Turner’s “Rock Me Baby” could have safely been described as understated, holding at a low-grade simmer rather than peaking at a rolling boil.

Similar restraint might have served the evening’s opening band well, as everything about its set — from the solo-laden songs to the runtime, which stretched well over 70 minutes — felt overstuffed. Credit Booker, Carney and Co. with recognizing less can oftentimes be more.

Photo by Andy Downing