La Strada – La Strada
Record Label: Ernest Jenning Record Co.
Release Date: March 5, 2008
To identify the rise in popularity of musical elements which have traditionally been considered folk or bohemian as either a recent or particularly explosive phenomenon (or really, as a phenomenon at all) would of course be inaccurate. While it could plausibly be argued that bands like The Decemberists and The Dresden Dolls have done wonders for the street cred of accordions, sea chanties, and cabaret, these elements have had a home in music for centuries.
Perhaps that’s why the six tracks of La Strada’s debut self-titled EP feel so familiar. The band has taken the ageless appeal of janglin’ folk and spun it anew with boundless positivity and modern flair. Three string players (Corrina Albright on viola, Daniel Baer on violin, and Maria Jeffers on cello) and one accordionist/vocalist (James Croft) go dancing with electric guitars (Croft, Ted Lattis, Devon Press) and bright percussion (Brady Miller) in a timeless, elegant step. Croft’s capricious voice slides and bounces through his notes like sunlight in a prism. The resulting trip feels like a canter through some gypsy countryside, all light and carefree.
Although it’s clearly a pleasant journey, it’s hard to find the road La Strada have chosen. The EP is more walkabout than nature hike, but the general lack of cohesion is one of the only slights against it. “Orphan” begins with the line “Wake up, you silly/ Shake your sleepy head,” but it remains murky as it wanders through slow strings and picked guitars, somehow pinioned to occasional snare beats. It’s not long, though, before “Sun Song” bursts through with La Strada’s beaming enthusiasm. This track, much like “Loved You All Along,” is so unabashedly optimistic that it could just as easily be sung by Kermit the Frog. Heck, the latter even features whistling!
Perhaps what’s most impressive about La Strada is that they can play both sides of the emotional coin with equal dexterity. “Momma,” a touching tune about a lost relative, is handled with exquisite care, balancing painful subject matter on a tightrope of fragile instrumentation and supple vocal harmonies. This quality craftsmanship allows a smooth transition into “Starling,” the album closer, which lives up to its name by flying above the music, touching down on each of the musical elements featured throughout La Strada. It’s a tidy commentary that wraps the album up with ease.
Folk and folk instruments are nothing new to the indie scene, but patina has rarely felt so new. Pull La Strada down from the shelf and dust off their debut EP. You’ll feel right at home.