Review by Sharon Hinchberger Houssou
Formed in 2007 and based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the influence of the city, whether intentional or not, is strong in La Strada’s recently released New Home. As in life, the songs have a mix of emotions, from hopeful idealism, hard realism, existential angst, and ambivalent resignation with a dénouement of final acceptance.
Go Forward and The Traveler, the first and third tracks on the record, create a sense of out with the old and in with the new and the romantic idea of going to a city where you can create a new reality for yourself. The drums simulate the rumbling of the subway and being driven on by the beat of the city.
The Traveler with rhythmic guitars and drums initially reminds me of Big Audio Dynamite’s sound. A funky rhythmic synthesizer, swelling string arrangements throughout, and a beautiful combination of male and female vocals inspire a view of cityscape and sky, of love and of yearning to find more. The protagonist – an adventurous spirit wondering what is out there for them and having no commitments behind them only to forge ahead to start a new life; the narrator – trying to understand where this traveler is going and wondering what broke their love. Was it the city? – “was our love broken by steel? I’m shock in the middle of our beautiful storm…”
References about New York pervade the album, like in Julia, and I could imagine hearing the strumming guitars, violin and cello and the sound of resolution and resignation in Craft’s voice, while looking through the second-hand clothes at Beacon’s Closet, a very hip consignment shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from where the band hails. The simple and truthful lyrics are somewhat Beatlesque, reminding me of John Lennon’s Julia but with its own original sound and a different story line.
The yearning and driving sound continues in Wash On By the fourth song on New Home, revealing blatant honesty and vulnerability with the percussive elements reminding me of the Pittsburgh-based band Rusted Root put me back on the subway again with the question – “On a crowded train who am I?” And in a city where non-stop stimulation and loneliness exist on either end of the spectrum, you can feel the existential angst walking through the homelessness and the shouting evangelists, and having a romance that makes you rise out of all of that like a phoenix if only for a time – “Looking through death day after day/Can’t find a woman to save me/Look up look down there’s bright sun on the wall/ In a tired world you’re my wake up call.”
Baptism brings a totally different feel to the record, revealing the influence of Romanian gypsy music from Craft’s time in Romania and carries with it the cynicism and hard bitterness of leaving a tired old game for a new life.
Resurgence and renewed love win out here, though, with the next track, New Home, where an instance of inspiration can pull you through the toughest week or the toughest year, possibly…seeing a beautiful face, hearing an amazing ballad on a subway platform is a split-second reality in the city where you may never see that beautiful face or hear that particular ballad ever again once the subway leaves the station – “I don’t know if I’ll see you again but you awoke in me the amen to love love love…hello strange familiar you’re my new home.”
Next, take the Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go and replace the standard rock sound with an accordion, violin, cello arrangements and harmonizing vocals and you have Where You Want to Go with a different sound but with the same indecision and confusion – “and the tower is filled with noise/we’re drinking from a bottle of whirlwind…I don’t know if it’s in my head/Where you wanna go?” – with the melodic accordion at the end confirming that this “not knowing” is all okay with a nice segue into There’s Only Love.
The minor chords of The Mountain Song evoke the foreboding of finding feelings in oneself that aren’t the most attractive – anger, hatred, feeling like a victim – that can catch up with you in a cold city that doesn’t care and the need to escape to rid oneself of these dark forces and to return renewed. The light sounds of the glockenspiel, though, ringing through the dark storm, sound like a beacon of light through the darkness.
If there is a climax amidst the songs on New Home, I would choose Shapes in the Sky. A climax, an apex, a point where one chooses the positive, life-affirming forces versus the negative amidst crazy people telling tales of grandeur – “The beggar king twists his story into glory after glory/telling tales to strangers/dying for category – or jumping out of windows – “red lights on Broadway Avenue/there’s a chalk man on the scene/it could have been a fun day/but he flew to be a kin.” But, in order to do so, there is a sense to need to escape at least for a reprieve – “When there is nothing but cold dirt and sky/there’s nothing to live for but shapes in the sky/there’s an arrow across the river/life is for the living/are you going to stand and follow it.”
Speaking of reprieve, the Wedding Song and Mean That Much, with the pleasant sounds of the glockenspiel, accordion, violin, and guitar riffs and are both mellow songs that round out the intense and energizing raucousness of the album nicely.
Currently touring in New England and Canada, they will be returning to Brooklyn on May 29th if you have a yearning to catch a train to New York City, you can see them at Bell House on May 29th. Check out their upcoming shows on MySpace, their status on Facebook, and a great video of the Sun Song on YouTube.com (see video below) among other interesting clips of live and official videos of their music.
La Strada has not gone unnoticed, having been a SXSW 2010 showcasing artist, featured on a Where the Wild Things Are behind-the-scenes trailer and an episode of Jason Schwartzman’s new show, Bored to Death, on HBO.
This is my new favorite band and listening to their music, I may just take them up on their Facebook page proposal: “La Strada wants to marry you! Please say ‘I do.’”
La Strada, named after the 1954 Italian neorealist drama and not the obscure Serbian band from Novi Sad, is: James Craft, accordion, guitar and lead vocalist and lyricist; Devon Press, bass, guitar, accordion, and vocals; Ted Lattis, guitar, vocals; Brady Miller, drums vocals; Daniel Baer, violin and vocals; and Isaiah Gage on cello. With Corrina Albright, Maria Bella Jeffers, Kevin Moehringer, Eli Asher, Mia Riddle, Colette Alexander, Amy Merrill and Kathryn Musilek. Produced, recorded and mixed by Kyle ‘Slick’ Johnson. Engineering assistant, Jonathan Low. Mastered by Alan Douches. Art by Faten Kanaan. Cover design by Noah Ross.
Special “thank you” to the Bullfrog Brewery located at 229 West Fourth St.Williamsport, PA for providing such quality entertainment.
Review by Sharon Hinchberger Houssou
– Sharon currently resides in Central PA with a yearning to move back to New York City, at least long enough to catch La Strada at the Knitting Factory again.