Recorded live at St. John's Pub, Portland West captures the Casey Neil Trio in great spirits, performing a dozen songs and instrumentals before an enthusiastic crowd. Guitarist/vocalist Casey Neill, flutist/vocalist Hanz Araki, and mandolinist/vocalist Zak Borden tackle original and traditional material with flair and finesse. The driving "Lowground" and the countrified "Blue Nights" circle around love lost and found, while the pensive "Killing Thing," from 1999's Skree, examines the many sides of love. The band gives a Celtic twist to the Carter Family's "Storms Are on the Ocean," and deliver some lively instrumental work on "The Kerfuntan Set." Neill's vocals and political sensibility have often linked him to Billy Bragg, but the acoustic approach of his trio is gentler than his English counterpart. Neill's political edge is also less evident on Portland West, though he does offer a stirring social commentary on "Angola," a story about a man who served 30 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Recording live, especially for a group that only has one album under its belt, is perhaps a risky strategy. But certain groups like the Casey Neill Trio just happen to be in their element live. In fact, one can almost recapture the infectious mood by turning up the volume and imbibing in a pint of one's favorite beverage. It should also be noted that most of these songs do not appear on earlier albums, so fans will hear fresh material. Portland West will also appeal to Celtic lovers who enjoy lively performances of great songs.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.