Mike Bernos Band Showcases New Singer at Mellow Mushroom

by Felicity Muse
The Mike Bernos Band, a.k.a. the Jacksonville All Stars, performed last Tuesday at the Mellow Mushroom in Jacksonville Beach, unleashing its blend of original acoustic rock, fanciful reggae and blues – distilled from Bernos’s New Orleans inner-city upbringing – and also introducing singer Sarah Sanders and her penetrating vocals.
Sanders, (Mama Blue) fronts the six piece band, that includes Bernos on guitar, as well as pianist Kenny Levine, percussionist Sam Rodriguez, bassist Lawrence Buckner, guitarist Bruce Carder and cellist, Brittany Maroney.
Sanders began the evening with the blues ballad, Once, Twice, Baby Good Night, which showcased her searing vocal dexterity only matched by that of Levine’s keyboard. Bernos who shares the singing/frontman spotlight with Sanders, featured his moody tenor on the dark and brooding, Believe and Cards He Ain’t Showing, which was accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful cello of Maroney.
Maroney, who is a senior at UNF, has a bright career ahead of her as a classically trained cellist, and it shows in her impeccable accompaniment to Bernos’s music.
The band also brought up vocalist Teri Levine, who sang the duet, Let Her Go, with Bernos. Levine, who performs the duet on the band’s CD, With These Hands, possesses a tripartite soulful voice in which every note seems to hang in the air.
The band, which has performed at Freebirds, Jacks Rabbits, and the Harvest of Hope Festival, is relatively new and grew from Bernos’s playing benefits for the Harvest of Hope Foundation. The singer/songwriter had written two ballads on the plight of migrant farm workers, Brown Skin and With These Hands, which became the cornerstone to his benefit performances and CD. Since then he has written many songs, which are interpreted compellingly by his band and Sanders.
“The beautiful thing about music is it is so democratic,” says Bernos. “It has to be a collaboration otherwise it becomes too rigid.”
He says that he is lucky in that musicians that play with him understand the organic sound he is after.
“I was playing one song, Caribbean Moon, a certain tempo, when Sam, who has more rhythm in one finger than I have in my entire body, suggested that we quicken it a bit,” Bernos says. “Wham! The song took off and now has an entirely different vibe with a different vocal interpretation.”
Bernos says that Kenny Levine, the arranger and producer of his CD, has been able to take the sound and translate in the studio.
“There is no better producer/arranger that I have met, and I have worked in New Orleans and Miami,” says Bernos. “He is brilliant with arrangements.”
Sound for the evening was provided by Stay Tuned Studios, which flawlessly blended the temperamental sounds of the band’s different instruments.
When you’re ready to flavor your evening with a delightful recipe of New Orleans, Jamaica and Southern blues find The Mike Bernos Band on your music menu at Mellow Mushroom, the Freebird Live, as well as being featured at the Con Moto festival in November.