Say the word ‘Cassino’ to most people, and they might have a few assumptions. Some may think about a World War Two battleground. Some, an Italian card game. And, inevitably, there will be those who ‘wittily’ quip that you don’t know how to pronounce ‘casino’.
However, you may also encounter a handful of people who correctly identify the name as that of a two-piece folk band from Huntsville, Alabama. Nick Torres and Tyler Odom’s music may not be recognised by most folks, but their engaging and beguiling blend of folk and country will ensure that all those who hear Cassino are likely to remember them.
Those who choose to investigate further have a slender but altogether fantastic back-catalogue waiting to greet them. Début Sounds of Salvation and 2009’s Kingprince are the group’sonly full-length releases, a scant 23 songs scattered over one and a half hours. An enigmatic band who seldom tour and seem to relish their relative anonymity, Cassino make exactly the kind of music they want to, avoiding any pollution of their sound by sticking firmly to their musical beliefs. Their use of twin acoustic guitars and dual voices isn’t unique, but the skill with which Odom and Torres put these two key components together means that Cassino is more than a music jigsaw, and not simply the sum of its parts.
What makes Cassino such a joy to listen to is hard to pin down. The rounded, emotional sound the pair manage to extract from their guitars is really quite special, and their voices are complimentary, not conflicting. The effortless sound created comes across as completely organic, both musicians evidently in tune (no pun intended) with one another’s intentions and styles. When space is required for a short riff or a solo, it is not left through facile drop-outs nor stodgy chord progressions, rather as part of a larger musical arc: Cassino sound like the kind of band you stumble upon in a small tent at a festival or playing in the back room of a quiet bar, going about their business without a hint of ostentation. For all their manifest talent, the band is in essence founded upon simple principles, simple sounds and simple joy.
Whilst the percussive yet melodic guitar riffs that permeate some of their best songs (‘Amelia’, ‘The Levee’) are delicately constructed, they are played very straightforwardly. Each part of each Cassino song is finely balanced and carefully honed; not a section sounds out of place, lazily constructed or clumsily handled, and the dexterity of their fingers is matched only by that of their musical minds.
Cassino’s music is a lot like a bonsai tree: it’s beautiful, but requires constant tender care. Odom and Torres preen, shape and craft their sound, delicately snipping at its branches instead of brutishly hacking at it with an ax, making it seem natural not man-made. Their constant sculpting has created a small product, granted, but one in which there is a lot to enjoy.
Best tracks: ‘American Low’, ‘Platano’ from Sounds of Salvation, ‘The Levee’, ‘Amelia’ and ‘Debrickashaw’ from Kingprince.
If you like this, you’ll also like: Cotton Teeth by The Snake The Cross The Crown, Small Steps, Heavy Hooves by Dear and The Headlights, At Home With Owen by Owen.