Cas Haley stood surrounded by his band in a rough circle in the studio. No one wore headphones or sat in an isolation booth. Instead they played music, and listened to each other. They cut songs in single takes. They didn’t focus on making things perfect, but instead focused on finding the soul of each song. The result is the Texas-based singer-songwriter’s astounding new album La Si Dah (Easy Star Records, 2013).
Cas had been on the road much of the time in the three years since the release of his last album, Connection, playing some 150 shows a year in just about every U.S. state as well as overseas and releasing a holiday EP (Gifts to Give). Now that he was back in the studio, as he explains, “I wanted to capture a moment. If I died tomorrow, and my kids had only one musical statement through which to know me, what would I want that record to be?” His answer: “I wanted them to feel their father in this music. I wanted it to be a recording that really is alive and I’m really present in; a true, pure, honest take of what happened.”
Cas’s friend and mentor, producer/engineer Rob Fraboni, provided invaluable coaching towards achieving this vision. Besides his work with music royalty like Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Wayne Shorter, Hubert Sumlin, and Melissa Etheridge, Fraboni did the original CD remastering of Bob Marley’s entire catalog in 1989, so he’s reggae royalty himself, and he’d taken an interest in Cas even prior to Connection. “I was immediately taken with him as a person,” Fraboni says. “Then I heard him sing! Lord, what a voice, and better yet, an ability to use that voice to really move the listener. I was immediately smitten.”
The young artist self-produced La Si Dah with Fraboni’s guidance on details that most of us don’t think about, but that mean everything to the songs, like what mics to use and where to place them (surprisingly far from the instruments). Cas sums it up simply: “Fraboni is from the day when capturing the sound and emotion of the performance was the goal.” In the end, turbocharged by Cas’s compelling talent and superbly rehearsed band, the La Si Dah sessions captured both the clarity of sound of a studio production and the soulful flavor of a live recording. Asked whether the unorthodox recording process paid off, Fraboni confirms it: “Absolutely. The atmosphere of the sound suits the emotion of his singing – fresh and alive! I’d call that a payoff.”
From his early days with his musician parents, surrounded by the sounds of blues, ‘60s-‘70s rock, and Bob Marley, through his immersion in ska/punk/skateboard culture and the classic reggae-pop of bands like UB40 and Sublime, Cas went on to a second-place finish on America’s Got Talent and some hard-knock lessons about the music business. Through it all –his years of touring, and now in the fourth year of his fruitful collaboration with Easy Star Records – Cas has never lost sight of music’s core message of communication among people and nations. But on La Si Dah he and his band take it in an eye-opening variety of musical directions. The straight-up reggae of songs like “Mama,” “Slow Down,” and “Crazy Good Woman” yields to soulful balladry (“Let Her Go”) and funky-jump blues (a smoking cover of the classic “I’ve Got My Mojo Working”), and three instrumentals, including the jazzy “Trash Day,” the Meters-meets-reggae of “Jackson,” and the Surf-inflected “Capricorn.” Says Cas, “I’ve always loved music that didn’t have lyrics. An album’s got to have a break from the stories to let your mind wander and let the music tell its own story.”
Musical branching out has been a part of Cas’s spirit all along. “My musical tastes have always been very wide, I love all kinds,” he says, “but what evolved is the way I feel about it, what it means to me, and the value that we all put on the moment of playing the music versus the outcome.” Lyrically Cas’s songs feel as authentic as ever but with the added depth of maturity and reflection: “I feel like I’ve definitely gotten to a place where I’ve accepted who I am.”
More and more fans are appreciating who he is, as he continues on the road playing solo acoustic shows, many at colleges, where audiences have embraced him, leading to many more bookings for the coming year. While all this experience has deepened his connection with his expanding songbook and proven that he doesn’t need a band behind him to move a crowd, his schedule also features club shows and festivals where he is excited to be teaming with his band members to perform much of the La Si Dah album. It’s all about giving his all to spread the joy of music – because no one should live in an isolation booth.