Laura Cortese
"Ambition often follows talent, and Laura Cortese has an embarrassment of both. Her open-armed approach to her art reveals a determination to spread the word about folk music and dance without watering down their distinctiveness."
- John Wenzel, The Denver Post

Laura Cortese has a vision for her band's sound: bold and elegant, schooled in the lyrical rituals of folk music and backed by grooves that alternately inspire Cajun two-stepping and rock-n-roll hip swagger. It's appropriate then that the quartet, featuring Cortese, call themselves Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards.

Cellist Valerie Thompson (cello/vox), the band's newest fiddler Jenna Moynihan (fiddle/vox), and a rotating cast of female bass players pair their sophisticated string arrangements and rich vocal harmonies to Cortese's poignant and powerful singing. Watching them on the main stage at a summer folk festival, or tearing it up late-night at a club, you get the sense that they might snap some fiddle strings or punch a hole in the bass drum. This is post-folk that seriously rocks.

True to their adventurous spirit and wide-ranging influences, the group was recently selected for the second time from a pool of 400 bands to tour with the US State Department's American Music Abroad program. In 2014, the band toured India, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Bangladesh to perform and teach as artist ambassadors. Now the band is eagerly awaiting their next international assignment for Spring 2016.

Cortese grew up in San Francisco and moved to Boston to study violin at Berklee College of Music. She has since immersed herself in the city's vibrant indie music scene and enjoyed a busy sideman career, which has included appearances with Band of Horses at Carnegie Hall, Pete Seeger at Newport Folk Festival, and Patterson Hood and Michael Franti for Seeger's ninetieth birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. She performs frequently with Jocie Adams formerly of The Low Anthem and can be heard with Adams's new band, Arc Iris. Cortese also performs frequently with Rose Cousins, and plays on her 2012 release "We Have Made a Spark".

This quartet is in line with Cortese's collaborative style; her last several projects have featured the finest of the Boston folk-pop scene. 2010 saw the release of three EPs: Two Amps, One Microphone, a duet with guitarist and singer Jefferson Hamer; Simple Heart, a collaboration with five other female vocalists; and Acoustic Project, which provided the seed for the fiddle-based arrangements of Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards.

Since the release of Cortese's most recent album, Into the Dark (2013), Cortese hasn't shied away from heavy subjects. On "Brown Wrinkled Dress" she writes from the point of view of a woman who discovers her husband's infidelity; on "Village Green" she sings in the voice of a servant who yearns for something more. Both songs echo traditional themes - "Brown Wrinkled Dress" is a murder ballad in the most classic sense - but others have an undeniably modern cadence. You can hear pop in Cortese's deftly-written hooks and rock 'n' roll in the syncopated pulse that propels even her gentlest melodies. Her cover of Laura Veirs's "Life is Good Blues" perhaps captures this spirit best: when Cortese sings, "Life is good when the band is smokin' hot," it's easy to believe her.

Valerie Thompson and Jenna Moynihan bring their own multi-genered credentials to the mix. Thompson has shared the stage with acclaimed jazz pianist Fred Hersch, indie-rock icon Amanda Palmer, multimedia artist Christopher Janney, and CMH Records' Vitamin String Quartet (including a guest appearance on Gossip Girl.) Moynihan is an acclaimed fiddler at the forefront of a new generation of acoustic musicians and is a graduate of Berklee College of Music. Her unique style is rooted in the Scottish tradition, with influences from the sounds of Appalachia. This fall she will release her first solo album, Woven. Jenna's love of the music has taken her across the U.S., Canada, France & Scotland, performing with various groups including Darol Anger, The Folk Arts Quartet, Atlantic Seaway, Matt Glaser, Vasen, Hamish Napier (Back of the Moon), Maeve Gilchrist, Bruce Molsky, Fletcher Bright, Courtney Hartman (Della Mae), at Festival InterCeltique (Brittany, France), Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and as a soloist with Hayley Westenra (Celtic Woman) at Symphony Hall in Boston.

& the dance cards
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