In "Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards" the leader herself showcases all of her varied experience and expertise–as a master fiddler, an instructor, a leader, and a musical collaborator–using it to craft a new sound from whole cloth: a nearly symphonic hybrid of countless traditions and influences, full of layered vocal harmonies and rich interplays of virtuosic string instrumentation.
With their first recording, California Calling, released in 2017 on Compass Records, Cortese held the reins. Starting with a suite of skeletal songs, the collective joined together with producer Sam Kassirer to compile disparate tracks into a cohesive album, filling in the soundscape with individually composed harmonies and instrumentals to accompany Cortese’s initial sonic sketches. Now, on their 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. Infused with the love and empathy of a group of people who’ve lived through the isolation and upheaval of the past several years, this album faces the challenges and darknesses of the modern world head-on without any despondency or cynicism. Instead, these artists have built a bonfire for us to gather around.