Friday, May 24, 2013
Album review: Cas Haley runs with rhythm and soul on La Si Dah
The former reality television star holds true to his reggae roots, but gives listeners so much more.
Much of America knows the story of Cas Haley, the young singer/songwriter from Paris, Texas who unexpectedly wowed the judges on the second season of America’s Got Talent right up to the final episode. While he didn’t walk away with the $1 million check (ventriloquist Terry Fator won the finals), Haley was signed to Sony Music for a five-album record deal. A surefire win, right?
What folks may not realize about his story is that Haley walked away from this arguably golden opportunity to avoid having his music overrun by corporate agendas. Instead, he took the grassroots approach self-producing four albums (thee full-lengths and an EP) including his latest La Si Dah, which drops May 28.
With his third studio album, Haley’s intention was clearly to return to the basics, creating music that resonates within the heart as opposed to on Billboard charts. On the inside fold of the album case, he writes, “Being in a world so heavily influenced by commercialism and the expectations of perfection paired with the technology and tools to synthesize that perfection, in my opinion, has zapped the very essence out of the majority of music today.”
Perhaps what he less purposefully accomplished was show listeners the astounding diversity of his sound with masterful technique. The trouble with pegging a musician as a reggae artist is the innate sense that his or her style is limited. While many of Haley’s compositions are founded in the reggae genre, La Si Dah also ventures through the realms of R&B and soul, with a healthy serving of jazz.
From start to finish, La Si Dah flows fluidily, with evident transitions that follow an emotional storyboard. Haley eases into the album with an instrumental track that is heavy on the bass and sweet on the ears before diving head first into almost an hour’s worth of feel-good tunes great for a summer mix tape.
Haley’s rhythm and funk come across in songs like “Let Her Go,” that aptly showcase his signature voice atop smooth guitar riffs and soft drums. Haley even does a little scat singing between his cat-calls to a red-head gypsy woman in “I’ve Got My Mojo Working."
Whimsical piano melodies carry the album’s title track “La Dah” as Haley describes a dream in which his grandmother taught him the importance of forgiveness. Those same keys pluck heartstrings later in a second instrumental track titled “Capricorn” that seems to sonically comfort its listener devoid of judgment.
Haley divulges his Rasta roots in songs like “Mama,” a spiritual ode to the creators of human life, “Crazy Good Woman,” the album’s token love song, and “Tally Tally,” a percussion-based call to arms. However, La Si Dah’s sparkling reggae gem comes late in album, a tune called “Slow Down,” which is best enjoyed with the windows down, volume up.
La Si Dah ends on a high note ironically titled “Start This Over.” The tune is a fast tempo island jam chock full of optimism against all odds. And perhaps that is what is truly defining of Haley’s latest release — not the lively musical construction, impressive vocal range, or overall grooviness, though all equally significant. There’s this feeling an artist can exist and be great in more than one slice of the musical spectrum, and that there is a difference between talent and hype, no matter how much money is thrown at it.