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Music Review: Laura Cortese – Acoustic Project

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Acoustic Project is an eclectic seven track EP for a most unconventional string quartet put together by fiddler, vocalist Laura Cortese. The other musicians are Natalie Haas on the cello, Brittany Haas on the five string fiddle, and Hanneke Cassel on the fiddle. Cortese wrote the music for five of the songs, as well as the lyrics for two.

The varied tracks echo with traditional fiddle blue grass and Cajun influences as well as pop and jazz lines. Lyrics cross genres as well, with nods to traditional folk ballads as in “Wade on In” and pop disillusion in “Overcome.” Cortese has a voice that can drip with ironic sweetness or soar with driving passion at times complementing the pulsating strings, at times struggling against them. Her EP is a masterful blend of sound and sense (with apologies to Alexander Pope. Acoustic Project is the work of a true artist.

Two of the tracks are instrumentals: “5 Tune” which features Brittany Haas’ five string fiddle and “Du Petit Sarny et Reel a Deux” two pieces in the traditional mode by French Canadian fiddler, Eric Favreau. There are also some nice opportunities for solo work in the arrangements of many of the other tracks.

The traditional “Greasy Coat” ends the EP with a kind of homage to the fiddle’s Blue Grass roots. “Women of the Ages” contrasts prettily plucked strings with John Beaton’s bleak lyric spoken by mothers who have lost sons, widows, and women who have been left pregnant. “We’re the women of the ages,” wails the chorus, “wooed to walk the aisles of grief;  / we’re the wear on well worn pages / where posterity retraces deeds of men in bold relief.”

Corteses’ lyrics can be equally bleak. “Overcome” is the quiet assessment of a relationship when the passionate moment is over. The lover has left the bed and remorse has set in. Ironically the singer listens to the traffic “whispering my indiscretion” as the lover gazes out the window looking for an answer that he can’t find. “Wade on In” is a seduction ballad that looks back in its dialogue form to the Middle Ages and the Popular Ballad. “Perfect Tuesdays” is a kind of modern plaint over loneliness and sham relationships:

To all you strangers out there listening / In vintage suits, printed tees and straight fit jeans / It’s not the same when I know it’s just game / You’re not the one just the boy of the weeks it seems.

According to her press release, Acoustic Project is the second release in a three part EP series to be followed by a full length album. The first of the series Two Amps, One Microphone came out earlier this year.

Cortese teamed with Jefferson Hamer and recorded a program of “Celtic-influenced American rock songs” after a year of performing together. Hamer’s website says that the EP, which contains nine tracks, is only available as yet at live concerts. The play list includes Cortese’s “Wade on In” and “Overcome” as well as songs by Hamer and Gram Parsons’ “A Song For You.” Some of the songs from the album are available free on the “KCBS In-Studio Performances Podcast” from iTunes.

You can check out “Perfect Tuesdays” on Cortese’s website as well as one of her duets with Hamer: “Let’s Get Rowdy.” Check it out. If you like the fiddle, if you like modern folk rock, hell if you like music, you’ll like Laura Cortese.

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About Jack Goodstein