Compass Records (label)
16 July 2020 (released)
16 July 2020
It could easily be argued that Berklee College of Music has been even more generous to the arts world than the BRITS school. Sure BRITS nurtured Imogen Heap, Adele, Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis and even Tom Holland, but Berklee was home to Lalah Hathaway, Diana Krall, Kiesza, Gillian Welch, Esperanza Spalding and Natalie Maines. On the list of Berklee alumni also features Laura Cortese, the Belgium based San Franciscan. Although she may not yet be a household name, she certainly deserves to be. Having debuted back in 2004 with the album Hush, she has become a regular feature of the indie-folk circuit and one of the most under-celebrated.
While her sound to date has not necessarily leaned heavily on the commercial, her striking vocals and stunning fiddle playing have set her apart from her contemporaries. Yet her fortunes in terms of the mainstream may be about to change with the release of her latest collection, Bitter Better, which is released with her band The Dance Cards.
Bitter Better is not a pop record. It is also far from being just the indie-folk sound that has been the throughline of her earlier releases. Both sounds feature, but are married to a love of the classical and rock, while the vocals have a soulful, classical undertone. Laura Cortese's released have always set the bar high, and while this does not necessarily raise it further, it does certainly change the parameters.
With Haim and The Aces both enjoying huge radio exposure, it is interesting to note that the most radio friendly moment on the record borrows heavily from their sound. Dreaming may have echoes of both the aforementioned,yet impressively it does not lose sight of the album's overriding sound nor Laura Cortese's own definitive edge. Dreaming is a huge summer song, and if her team play their cards right, it will soundtrack adverts for years to come, but it is not the album's key moment.
Although radio success is still important, in the era of the streamed playlist, it is a more unique quality that often sets an artist apart from being another featured artist on a playlist and one that a listener follows through to further explore. The trippy musical backdrop to the very direct sounding When We Rocked and almost wistful How Long are two songs that may not be immediate singles, but would certainly draw a listener in to explore the magic of Bitter Better if placed on the appropriate playlists.
However the album's crowning moment arrives in the almost classical beauty of Where The Fox Hides. This is a musical moment that boasts such intrinsic charm that is impossible not to be captivated throughout repeated listens.
Bitter Better is an impressive set from an already impressive artist. Definitely one of 2020's finest releases thus far, if not the finest.