Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards “California Calling” (Compass Records 2017)

Laura Cortese, a force already as a solo singer, has gathered around her, in Boston, other alumni from Berklee College of Music: Cellist, Valerie Thompson, fiddler, Jenna Moynihan and bass player, Natalie Bohrn. Together, they are a foursome to be reckoned with. Laura has written or has had a part in writing nine of the songs on this remarkable album. It doesn’t take long to become immersed in the music that the quartet provides. The first two tracks capture you. The Low Hum is a settling-in winner. With Jenna’s clawhammer banjo in the background, the four of them establish their harmonic skills, “The low hum/ When your heart is broken.” The title track follows, and producer, Sam Kassirer uses a bass line, Laura’s remarkable voice, full rhythm and full sound to emphasise the event. Thus, with the harmonies and the lyrics, is established the allure of California who “sleeps so pretty,” who “waits to watch the sleeping sunrise,” but who also is “breaking…” All the stops are pulled out here, and then the track stops – remarkable!

In Three Little Words fiddles are to the fore in a musical arrangement which begins to emphasise the variety of music presented, with Valerie, Jenna, Natalie and Laura, to the fore. This may be just a domestic song, but musically it is full of interest with catchy fiddle riffs. “Just say the words when you look back! Skipping Stone is next, with banjo tripping, a short and captivating fiddle interlude and Laura surmising, “If I held you a little closer…” Here is the humanity of the music.

Swing and Turn (Jubilee) demonstrates how Laura and The Dance Cards bring extra, and up to date life into a traditional song. The arrangement with Jenna’s violin wailing in the background, mixed with Laura’s voice, the strings, fiddles el al, leaves one with an opinion: Perhaps the best version of Swing and Turn there is to hear?

So it is that this album entertains you by demonstrating a rich variety of music, singing and harmony. In Someday the promise is made through this music and through the lyrics that “This song will take you far away.” And certainly, through the cello, the fiddle, the banjo and the bass, through Laura’s voice and her lyrics, that promise can be fulfilled.

Author: Dave Clarke

I have always loved Americana music, even before it had a name. I've been a teacher (secondary and tertiary) all my professional life.

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