La Strada born from melting pot

DENIS ARMSTRONG - QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:29 AM ET

James Craft plays the accordion in the band, La Strada.

La Strada. You'd assume that Craft lives somewhere in Italy, perhaps near the local opera house, where he plays in the orchestra, or a restaurant.

In fact, the 36-year-old singer and songwriter lives in Brooklyn. The former home of the Dodgers baseball team and I Love Lucy is a melting pot for Russian, Jewish, Asian and Dominican immigrants looking for a slice of the American Dream.

It's also where the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the epicentre of American arts, is located.

All of which makes Brooklyn the ideal environment to create innovative music says Craft, who wrote and arranged much of the music on La Strada's debut album New Home. Brooklyn, it seems, is fast becoming a romantic magnet for artists as Italy ever was.

"We're attracted to the music from all over the world," says Craft, who was born in France, lived in Romania with the Peace Corps, and has travelled all over the U.S. "Music from West Africa, India, Eastern Europe. I didn't want to make another rock record with simple rhythms to dance to. I wanted to create something new, that engaged the imagination. As a songwriter, I'm always trying to do something new for me.

"Making the album was a major step forward for the band. It was like moving into a new home you've always wanted to live in," he adds. "I love living in Brooklyn because I've always enjoyed drawing on other cultures. There's so much colour to my neighbourhood. It's not too comfortable or gentrified. It's got a cool, active and arty vibe."

"Cool, arty vibe" pretty much sums up the new album as well. Produced by Modest Mouse producer Kyle Johnson, it's indie folk rock with a twist of European gypsy carnival with deep roots in classical chamber music. At times, the band is so innovative, the album feels like a Bollywood film scored by Ennio Morricone.

Trained as a classical pianist, Craft and his La Strada bandmates -- Daniel Baer, Isaiah Gage, Brady Miller, Ted Lattis and Devon Press -- made a name for themselves in 2009 during their first Canadian tour with Newfoundland's Hey Rosetta!

The band liked their Canadian experience so much, they fast-tracked a second Canadian tour, this time with Oshawa's Cuff The Duke.

"We found audiences in Canada more receptive and open-minded to anything new. Canadians look at art and other people very differently from Americans. It was a good boost for our confidence."

Once they finish their second Canadian tour, La Strada will tour the U.S. before heading to Nova Scotia in July.

"I like travelling, but I also like coming home too," Craft reminds me. To his New Home.

La Strada play the blacksheep in Wakefield on Saturday. Opening is Wil and Tara Holloway. Tickets are $8 in advance online at TicketWeb.ca or $10 at the door. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.

denis.armstrong@sunmedia.ca


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