Casey Stratton is a prodigious talent who didn’t allow being lost in the major-label shuffle to derail his career. Released by Sony Records in 2004, Stratton’s album “Standing on the Edge” was a superb collection of melancholy and emotive piano-pop. Produced with Patrick Leonard (perhaps best-known with his work on several of Madonna’s biggest hits), the album received promising reviews and even scored a major hit on the dance charts with a remix of album track “House of Jupiter.” But Sony didn’t seem to know what to do with Stratton from a promotional standpoint, and they soon parted ways. Since then he’s been a truly independent artist, delivering consistently solid albums directly to fans via his website, the latest of which - “Sea Into Sky” – was released this week.
“Sea Into Sky” finds Stratton contemplating love and loss with a collection of soaring, exquisitely-produced tracks. His versatile voice – which can range from a rich tenor to a spine-tingling soprano – is often layered, creating rich and complex harmonies that float above his piano-driven style of pop. The tracks are often quite lengthy, and are allowed to develop in a fully expansive way. “Love is Love” is one of several high points, the complex vocal arrangement building in intensity as it goes. Stratton has an innate sense of melody, as evidenced by “Mountain,” a dramatic piece built over a powerfully driving rhythm. In “Luna,” Stratton allows his sublime voice to take center stage over a simple, synth-laden backing track. “Nightingales” features more prominent acoustic guitar, and builds slowly as the piano and synths add color and depth; it also contains one of the purest and loveliest vocals on the album. The emotional centerpiece of the record may be the 6-minute-plus “Distant Call” – it has an epic, cinematic feel with a haunting melody and Stratton’s surreally beautiful vocal once again driving the song. The album is for the most part rather mellow and contemplative, but is never boring. Listen to it on good headphones or speakers and be prepared to be blown away by the layers of vocals and sound.
Casey Stratton is a gifted artist who experienced a brief moment in the “promised land” of the majors, but when that went sour he didn’t fold up his tent and give up. He writes like it’s a necessary catharsis, and the songs reflect this. They are emotional and personal, but accessible – not random navel gazing or overly emotive diary entries. He knows how to build a rich melody and wrap his amazing voice around it in multiple parts like an ever-building swirl of sound. He’s an artist who deserves to be heard, not only because of his admirable perseverance in a fickle industry, but – more importantly – he’s damn good. “Sea Into Sky” is a great place to start – it’s possibly his richest album yet – but his excellent back catalog is well worth discovering (especially the absolutely stunning “Divide” album). Casey Stratton is an artist that, with the right opportunity and exposure, could be a major musical force. Here’s hoping that the gorgeously-produced and performed “Sea Into Sky” gives him that chance. It’s available for download purchase at his website, www.caseystratton.com, and is worth every penny. Instead of shelling out 12 bucks for the latest major-label flavor of the moment, give an independent artist recording for the love of music a chance.