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Cas Haley | La Si Dah

album review by John Powell

Cas Haley | La Si Dah

For those unfamiliar with Cas Haley, he is one of the finest voices in music today. Cas is a soul man joyfully playing in a reggae river. Most songs carry reggae influence, all receives heartfelt vocal performances, and many add in bass, drums, keys, and the occasional horns. Cas is highly underrated overall, but for fans of the genre, he is well respected.

Cas is proof that true musicians go through phases and their music grows up with them. It’s been three years since Connection came out, and that was when the budding artist began to tour with Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Trevor Hall, and The Green. La Si Dah started as a grassroots fundraiser from fans, and together these years made a magical piece of art.

For this new record, Cas dispensed with overdubbing and put his band in one room. Cas’ songwriting and performances have always had a classic, Harry Bellefonte or Aretha Franklin- old school sensibility to them, so now here comes a record that’s simple, light, and recorded in the old school way.

La Si Dah keeps up with reggae/soul flow, adding in three instrumentals. Cas is known for his voice, but his guitar and composing skills shouldn’t go unnoticed. In fact, Cas is stellar at creating easy to learn lyrics, easy to follow song structures, and yet still never comes off as rehashed or cliché.

Just to prove this, La Si Dah starts with an instrumental, “Jackson”, which is a short intro-type song, very fun and light. The mood throughout La Si Dah is summertime easiness. Nothing is stressed or angry.

Next is “La Dah, the first single. A lollipop pop rhythm sets the tone as Cas digs deep with some of his best lyrics. “It’s all okay, son/ the fact of the matter is/ you got to bless the whole world/ despite the things he never did.” This is Cas’ grandma talking to Cas about his father. It’s a narrative introspection via his respected elder. We get to learn about Cas here, gaining a sense for the importance he places on family and how his dad wasn’t there. Many can connect to this and sing along to the chorus: “La si dah.”

Deep and easy. Not a simple task. Cas makes gold.

Following is the roots reggae “Mama”. While it’s great Cas can pull off a variety of sounds, this particular set of songs is sometimes jolting. Pop, folk, soul, and drum n’ bass. He didn’t make it easy to pick an order, and I guess he did the best he could. “You are the ocean deep,” he sings on “Mama”, and “You are shelter from the storm.” As much as he cares about family, he cares about nature.

Cas covers “I’ve Got My Mojo Working”, proving that he could sing the phone book and make it not only sound like his own, but also fill it with spirit and meaning. It’s nothing special of a song, but he owns it, certainly. The fun other cover is “How Soon is Now?”, the 80s hit popularized by the show Charmed. With it, Cas holds to the instrumentation and melody, stripping it over any synth and therefore completely changing the song’s meaning and feel. Well done.

A key track is “Crazy Good Woman”, a song for his wife. When he gets to, “Are you in the garden/ are you in the park?” you’re hooked. You’re hooked over and over. A catchy flight of fancy, unlike any love song out there. The final track is also stellar. “Start This Over” is like the end-of-summer anthem. “We wonder where we go/ we wonder where we dream,” he sings; “The answer’s got to be...” And he leaves it there.

His first band effort to date, staple musicians include Ryan Eldridge on keys, Eric Neal on bass (and often upright, giving a certain feel), and Jacob Benenate on drums and percussion. Staying acoustic for the most part, this band has really developed a sound.

Is this better than Connection? It’s too different, so it’s not fair to compare. It is a change. Still sounds like Cas, though. Is still rich with melody and soul. Sam Cooke would probably eat this album up! Cas has come a long way and he’s more than happy to share his journey with us.

Bottom line: Yes, this album is as good as you want it to be, and maybe, in a lot of ways, better.


 

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