Friday, July 15 at Catamount Arts
Laura Cortese has a vision for her band’s sound: bold and elegant, schooled in the lyrical rituals of folk music and backed by grooves that alternately inspire Cajun two-stepping and rock-n-roll hip swagger. It’s appropriate then that the trio, featuring Cortese, call themselves Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards.
Since appearing on Cortese’s most recent album, Into the Dark (2013), Valerie Thompson (cello/vox) and Mariel Vandersteel (fiddle/hardingfele/vox) have paired their sophisticated string arrangements and rich vocal harmonies to Cortese’s poignant and powerful singing. Seeing the trio on stage, you get the sense that they might snap some fiddle strings or punch a hole in the bass drum. This is post-folk that seriously rocks.
On Into the Dark, Cortese doesn’t shy away from heavy subjects or rely solely on her own experiences. On “Brown Wrinkled Dress,” she writes from the point of view of a woman who discovers her husband’s infidelity; on “Village Green” she sings in the voice of a servant who yearns for something more. Both songs echo traditional themes – “Brown Wrinkled Dress” is a murder ballad in the most classic sense – but others have an undeniably modern cadence. You can hear pop in Cortese’s deftly-written hooks and rock ‘n’ roll in the syncopated pulse that propels even her gentlest melodies. Her cover of Laura Veirs’s “Life is Good Blues” perhaps captures this spirit best: when Cortese sings, “Life is good when the band is smokin’ hot,” it’s easy to believe her.
This trio is in line with Cortese’s collaborative style; her last several projects have featured the finest of the Boston folk-pop scene. 2010 saw the release of three EPs: Two Amps, One Microphone, a duet with guitarist and singer Jefferson Hamer; Simple Heart, a collaboration with five other female vocalists; and Acoustic Project, which provided the seed for the fiddle-based arrangements of Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards.
Cortese grew up in San Francisco and moved to Boston to study violin at Berklee College of Music. She has since immersed herself in the city’s vibrant indie music scene and enjoyed a busy sideman career, which has included appearances with Band of Horses at Carnegie Hall, Pete Seeger at Newport Folk Festival, and Patterson Hood and Michael Franti for Seeger’s ninetieth birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. She performs frequently with Jocie Adams formerly of The Low Anthem and can be heard with Adams’s new band, Arc Iris. Cortese also performs frequently with Rose Cousins, and plays on her 2012 release “We have Made a Spark”
Valerie Thompson and Mariel Vandersteel bring their own multi-genered credentials to the mix. Thompson has shared the stage with acclaimed jazz pianist Fred Hersch, indie-rock icon Amanda Palmer, multimedia artist Christopher Janney, and CMH Records’ Vitamin String Quartet (including a guest appearance on Gossip Girl.) Vandersteel came of age musically nurtured by the Bay Area’s rich revivalist traditional music scene. She attended Berklee College of Music and studied hardingfele in Norway, that country’s national instrument. In 2009 she released a solo album, Hickory. She was invited as part of a select group of 20 young musicians to Savannah Music Festival’s Acoustic Music Seminar to study with Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussein and Mike Marshall.
True to their adventurous spirit and wide-ranging influences, the group was recently selected from a pool of 400 bands to tour with the US State Department’s American Music Abroad program. Starting in January 2014, they will set off to an as-yet-undisclosed region of the world to perform and teach as artist ambassadors. Such a mission is perfect for this trio, whose music communicates the depth and soul of American roots music, using their own uniquely modern voices.