Reviews / Review: Cortese and co wow sold-out Mareel

Singer and fiddle player Laura Cortese was joined by fellow fiddle player Jenna Moynihan, cellist Valerie Thompson and double bass player Jeni Magana. Photos: Steven Johnson, web: www.stevenjohnsonfoto.com

All the way from Massachusetts, and fresh from a slot at the Orkney Folk Festival at the weekend, Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards showed not one bit of fatigue as they wowed a sell-out crowd at Mareel on Tuesday night, writes Patrick Mainland.

Among the Lerwick audience were many who had seen them play here just last year at our very own folk festival, and they sat eagerly in anticipation of the night to come.


Before the Boston-based quartet took the stage, local Americana favourites Kansa kicked off the night with a typically solid and engaging set. Beginning with crowd-pleasing covers of Hank Williams and Old Crow Medicine Show, they soon moved into original song territory including one tune based on an old local folk tale. The audience heard the entertainingly grim story of ‘Gibby Law’ from the West Side.

If an album was to appear at some point in the future it would undoubtedly be a hit here in the isles. Another highlight was the genuinely lovely often-covered classic You Belong To Me, featuring the brilliant harmonies of Karlyn Grains and Norma Wishart. It’s a song from the 50s which will never get old.


Afterwards it was time for the Dance Cards. Led by singer and fiddler Cortese, who was joined by fellow fiddle player Jenna Moynihan, cellist Valerie Thompson and double bass player Jeni Magana, they were brimming with confidence and delight at being back to play in Shetland again.

It was confidence which ran through their material too. Not a note out of place, their set flowed between the laid-back and the lively with effortless ease. Fiddles duelled and harmonies soared throughout. One song was even “half-disco, half-bluegrass”, but it worked.


Mangataskrinna was a magical little instrumental tune inspired by Swedish words meaning to skate on a frozen lake under the moon at night. Better to imagine than to try out in real life, I’m sure.

Local Americana favourites Kansa kicked off the night.

Also featured were a number of new tunes, such as the four-part harmony a cappella Rhododendron. This was followed swiftly by Someday – inspired by a meeting on the ferry – and the rousing California Calling. Another upbeat standout was Heel to Toe near the end of their set, and surely the catchiest song of the night. Cortese’s vocals were captivating from beginning to end.

All four members are clearly prolific musicians in their own right, but coming together felt natural, as did their on-stage banter. There were little stories and jokes, showing a true love for performing.

At one point Valerie Thompson amused the audience by asking for recommendations on woo-able vinyl records – “the most romantic way to listen to music”.

Overall Mareel was a very intimate place for the evening, not more so than when, for an encore, the band members hopped up the steps to all four corners of the auditorium and played, lights switched off, harmonies switched on.

For a final flourish came a bit of a twist – a cover of disco hit Turn The Beat Around done in full Dance Cards rootsy folky style, with the final words of the song being ‘love to hear it’. We loved to hear it, too.