Stesha Cano has been performing for so long that now she’s got a built-in barometer for crowds. If they’re warm, she’ll loosen them up. If they’re cold, she’ll play a fun cover to get them out of their seats. And if they’re really having a good time, she’ll start playing from her catalog of original songs.
“You do it long enough, you can feel the changes in the crowd as they come and go. You can sense it. They might not care at all, or they might all of a sudden start perking up,” said Cano, 29, a musician based in Bangor. “I think part of your duty as a musician and a performer is to entertain. If you look like you don’t want to be up on stage, the audience knows it. It’s my job to make you have fun. And I just hope you want to hear my songs.”
Though Cano is best known in eastern Maine for playing soulful covers solo and with Juicebox, the funk band she’s co-fronted for years now, she’s first and foremost a singer and songwriter. In fact, she’s getting ready to release her second album, “Simple as Everything,” a follow up to 2011’s “Like a Bee,” with two record release parties set for Oct. 18 and 19 at the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer.
Where “Like a Bee” stuck mostly to the soul and r&b sound Cano’s known for, “Simple as Everything” showcases Cano’s growth as a songwriter and musician, as well as her newfound guitar playing skills. It’s rooted in her signature style, as on “Mad Love” or the sassy “Super Girl,” but plenty of other styles creep in, as on the psychedelic waltz-time song “The Puppeteer” or the reggae-tinged album opener “And You Break.” Cano inhabits a musical world that’s equal parts Alicia Keys, Alabama Shakes and Michael Franti, with a dash of classic jazz thrown in for good measure — Cano still loves her Ella and Billie.
She recorded the album with her longtime collaborator, guitarist Josh Small, and brought in a host of her favorite local musicians, including bassist Brad O’Brien, percussionist Beau Lisy, drummer Brooks Gray, and an array of area horn and string players.
“It was really important to me to kind of stretch my wings a little bit. I want my music to be different from the stuff I do with covers,” she said. “It’s hard to get people to pay attention to your original music, when they are used to you playing songs they know.”
As someone who’s got nearly ten years of playing in a band under her belt, Cano, who makes music as a full time job, has had a chance to observe first hand how Maine audiences have changed – especially eastern Maine audiences, though Cano has performed all over the state, from Southwest Harbor to Portland.
“It’s strange. I think on the one hand there’s a generation growing up that doesn’t have an appreciation for live music. I think people get used to hearing the same recorded sound over and over again and aren’t able to listen critically,” she said. “On the other hand, I think there’s a whole new group of people, especially in Bangor, that come out to see bands and listen to original music and really appreciate it. I guess it all balances out.”
Stesha Cano’s “Simple as Everything” record release parties are set for 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 18 and 19; $20 admission or $30 for a couple includes a copy of the album, food and a wine toast. For more information, visit steshacano.com.