Singer, songwriter and fiddler, Laura Cortese lights up the stage with a radiating smile, dazzling musicianship and uninhibited delight. The fiery combination of her Irish and Italian heritage delivers a unique blend of passion and humor. Cortese chops a mean fiddle behind her folk pop vocals. On her latest release, Even the Lost Creek (February 2006), she couples the groove and polish of urban music with universal themes of the old world.
Cortese’s Irish American grandmother first handed her a fiddle at the age of 4. Eight years later, she discovered folk music in what seems like an unlikely place, the bustling metropolis of her hometown San Francisco. “I found an exceptional community of singers, musicians and dancers at the Valley of the Moon Fiddle Camp,” she says. “People from age 2 to 80 that just love making music together. It’s strange to say, but I think that was the year I decided that music was IT.”
In 1999, Cortese moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. Over the next few years she played in several bands including fiddle trio Halali formed with two childhood friends. “I had never really sung solo on stage before Halali. I realized songs are an amazing way to connect to an audience.” In an apartment across the street from Berklee College, Cortese set out to record her debut album Hush in 2002 (re-released on Jar productions 2004). Hush showcases 12 tracks of pop-inspired arrangement that captures the raw sincerity of traditional Celtic music.
After college, Cortese traveled from coast to coast, from Nashville to Montreal, performing and partying with musicians at the forefront of the burgeoning folk scene. In June 2004, at one such late night party, Cortese found a rare chemistry with Zack Hickman (producer of Even the Lost Creek) and Jesse Harper (guitar and harmony vocals). Cortese remembers, “We sat around singing songs after a show at Boston's Club Passim. We sang everything from jazz standard â€˜Summer Time’ to Otis Redding’s â€˜Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’. The three of us huddled as close as we could." That night hinted at the sound they would generate when Cortese’s exquisite vocals met laid back swing, traditionally influenced folk song writing and a kicking rhythm section.
Even the Lost Creek plays like a late night party, intimate, compelling and spontaneous. On this collection of songs Cortese weaves her own writing with offerings from some of the folk scenes most poetic song writers (Kristen Andreassen, Josh Ritter, Michael Tarbox). From the first note of the rock influenced organ on "Blow the Candle out," you are whisked away to the nighttime rendezvous of young lovers. The title track, the sleepy, "Even the Lost Creek" pairs late night philosophy and a serious gypsy influenced fiddle solo. Instrumentally, the driving “Mulqueen's” showcases virtuosic Celtic fiddling. The party is complete with Cortese’s grooving cover of 80’s pop song “Just Like Heaven" (The Cure).
For Even the Lost Creek, Cortese and her band set aside a week to rehearse and record together, cooking, eating and sleeping at the Signature Sounds studios in Pomfret, CT. “Zack and I wanted to capture the synergy that people develop when they live and work together. After recording for five 13 hour days straight, we recorded the final album cut, 'Night Train to Chelsea,' in one take. Riding on that high, Zack, Jesse, Mark Thayer (engineer for Even the Lost Creek) and I stayed up playing and singing until the sun came up."
Cortese draws on the old traditions to inspire her dynamic, contemporary folk sound. With fiddle and passion in hand she continues to light up the stage.