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Laura Cortese | May 27th, 2023
The Square, Vancouver, Canada
Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards
Laura Cortese might best be described as a sonic magpie: a curious and resourceful adventurer traversing great distances, collecting melodies and rhythms that glitter like jewels in the sun. Driven by the gravitational pull of human connection, her tendency towards exploration and collaboration have led her into countless niches, each providing its own unique feather with which to decorate her distinct and ever-evolving sound. But all of these explorations have one thing in common: the power of strings. This may seem limiting to some. To her, it is anything but. “Strings are at the core of what I do,” she says. “Genre is secondary to that palate.”
Cutting her teeth as a sideman in Boston’s roots music scene, Laura Cortese forged a unique path through a pool rich in talent (due to a large population of Berklee School of Music graduates like herself) including stints as an instrumentalist with Band of Horses, Pete Seeger, Rose Cousins, Jocie Adams (of the Low Anthem), and Uncle Earl.
Her Compass Records debut, California Calling, is the next step in her career as a frontwoman and bandleader - she and her Dance Cards (Cellist Kaitlyn Raitz, fiddler Jenna Moynihan, and bassist Natalie Bohrn) break new ground with a bold and elegant new album, based in the lyrical rituals of folk music but exploring new territories of rhythm and sonics. With the support of Sam Kassirer, album producer of folk-pop favorites like Lake Street Dive and Joy Kills Sorrow, they’ve created something that’s simultaneously rowdy, delicate and cinematic.
Now, on her most recent release, Bitter Better (2020 Compass Records), we see the full power of the hivemind of the collaborative. Composed together in Cortese’s home in Ghent, Belgium, the Dance Cards, again with producer Sam Kassirer, took melodic fragments and pinhole snapshots of lyrics, piecing them together into an acoustic mosaic held in place by the mortar of their combined decades of experience in a rich variety of styles. The result is dazzling. “I wanted to give people a way to fill their cups and refuel to continue doing important work,” says Cortese. “Music provides an outlet to experience cathartic emotional moments. One way to always do that is to move your body, to dance–it gives people a way to shed their sadness.” And so Bitter Better is stacked with danceable tunes: an open invitation to leave hardships at the door and give in to the moment, to let the music literally move you.
Nowadays, her focus has laid a little closer to home. Even as she has angled to return to touring and sharing her music with the world in her transcendent live performances, Cortese has also devoted herself to her community, collaborating with the creatives that live and work alongside her in Ghent. During the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she took to co-writing commemorative songs with her partner, Bert Ruymbeek, taking the hallmark events of her friends and loved ones and putting them to song, serenading them from the street to celebrate even in the darkest of times.
This is post-folk that seriously rocks.
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