I can remember seeing the Dallas band Sorta perform at least four years ago at the Deep Ellum club the Liquid Lounge. Ah yes, back when that area was a thriving neighborhood fueled by an active music community. In those days Sorta was a great bar band, but I never thought they would continue on to create an album like this. Strange And Sad But True shows a band ready to finally break out of the Dallas/Fort Worth bubble and move on to a much bigger, more supportive audience.
The band has grown to a six-piece, still fronted by the talented Trey Johnson. Sorta is a tough band to classify as they easily glide from near prog rock on the album's opener "Buttercup" to the twangy ballad of "Tell Me A Story." It takes some damn good songwriting and musicianship to make these diverse influences work together, which they do with ease.
It isn't as if they haven't worked hard to get to this level, as Strange marks the band's third LP. That is the difficult part about being a great band in the heart of Texas. The state seems to suck bands into a vacuum, making it nearly impossible to branch out. Out of my many, many years following the Dallas/Fort Worth music scene, I have seen it happen over and over again. Unless you have lived there, chances are you never got to experience such great bands as Chatterton or Peter Schmidt & His Gentlemen Scholars. With an album this good, I can only hope that Sorta doesn't fall victim to the curse of Dallas bands that never get the attention they deserve.
At times I am reminded of bits of Wilco and Cracker on the bouncy, slide guitar-filled pop gem "Water Music." They walk a fine line between accessibility and musical exploration, making this a smart, entertaining listen. The album isn't all sunny pop songs, such as on the gloom-filled "85 Feet." This particular song addresses the true story about a Dallas man who threw his girlfriend off an overpass, then jumping to his own death. Not a happy topic, but Sorta thrives when confronting dark tales.
A personal favorite of mine is "Lazybones," which in an odd way brings to mind a countrified Built To Spill combined with a touch of U2. This one allows Johnson to show off his vocal range, soaring as he sings, "it's a matter of time before I can go home." Sorta can't hold back their southern roots all the time, which shine through with the slide guitar and banjo on "Party's Over."
It still amazes me how fast time goes by, with Sorta now in their sixth year of existence. They did win the award for Best Act Overall in the 2006 Dallas Observer Music Awards, but it is time for their music to be heard outside of the Lone Star State. If you are a fan of Wilco's classic album Summer Teeth, add Strange And Sad But True to your list of records to check out.