Review: Laura Cortese mixes synthesizers and string music

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards, “Bitter Better” (Compass Records)

Processed and organic ingredients tend not to mix well in sandwiches or songs, but there’s a thoroughly likable lilt to the digital-analog mix that is “Bitter Better.” These 11 indie folk mashups from Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards are a seamless blend of synthesizers and string music.

The California-born, Belgium-based Cortese’s warm, enveloping alto rides curlicue melodies atop intricate arrangements of fiddles, double bass, cello and banjo, which are improbably complemented by robopercussion, along with synthesizer gurgles and squiggles. Billowing wordless background vocals underscore that this is not machine music, even if the studio is the primary instrument.

Making it all work is a team effort, starting with the crack string ensemble the Dance Cards. Producer Sam Kassirer also performs, and while Cortese receives a writing credit on every song, she often has composing collaborators.

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That includes six on “Treat You Better,” a once-upon-a-love song in search of a dance floor. “Younger Man” is a military chaplain’s tale punctuated by a lovely fiddle solo, while the bluesy “Typhoon” assesses the aftermath of a stormy relationship.

“Where the Fox Hides” combines tutti strings, a pulsing synthesizer and a fetching melody. It’s a timely tune about love in isolation and, like the rest of “Bitter Better,” the sort of music that draws a crowd.

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