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"American Songwriter"

Ever heard of Wilco's Summer Teeth? Well, that is the best referrence I can give to desribe Strange and Sad but True by this quintet fron Dallas...an artistic, alternative country band's take on pop. Despite frequently employing pedal steel and slide guitar, Sorta's songs come off more popply than one might expect, largue due to the neutral voice of lead singer and songwriter Trey Johnson, whose pipes and lyrics don't really lead themselves to any particular genre. All in all, Strange and Sad but True is delightful mellow pop, recalling everything from Josh Rouse to Elliot Smith to Wilco. While no one song really stands above the rest as a clear-cut favorite (except maybe the bouyant "Water Music"), this album has no weak link...potentially making them all favorites.
www.sortaweb.com - American Songwiter Magazine


"Fort Worth Star Telegram"

Sorta band members, from left to right, Ward Williams, Trey Carmichael, Carter Albrecht, Trey Johnson, Danny Balis and Chris Holt.
Trey Johnson can't quite understand it.
His band, Sorta, always gets lumped into the "Americana" category -- with all the twang and tumbleweed that particular marketing niche implies -- and he doesn't really see it. Sure, his Dallas-based group is also recognized as one of the best in the area (scooping up Best Overall Act at the Dallas Observer's Music Awards this year), and he's not going to quibble with that. But about that Americana thing . . .
"For some reason, we got pegged as more of an Americana band than we ever really were," he says. "On the last record, we had pedal steel, and I think that's why."
But with the new album, the often dreamily poignant Strange and Sad but True, Sorta comes across as less Americana and just American, a rich blend of rock roots, pop jangle and Johnson's sturdy, casually soulful vocals. Like Denton's Midlake, there's a '70s influence without sounding dated, whether it's in the acoustic beauty of Nothing Left To Say, the big, soaring hooks of Lazybones, or the Don Henley-style romantic disillusionment of The Party's Over.
Johnson, 37, says there was no conscious effort to do things differently this time, with one exception. "I anticipated that we wouldn't drench it so much in pedal steel," he says. "[Last time] we were all learning how to use the instrument."
There's one other difference: With 85 Feet, Johnson tried his hand at writing something based on a story he saw in the newspaper. In June 2004, a man murdered his girlfriend by throwing her from a Bush Turnpike overpass in Richardson into rush-hour traffic 85 feet below, and then leapt to his death.
"I wrote it the morning I got the paper," he explains. "I write about things that are a part of my life, not things that I read about, but that story struck me as dark and sad."
Johnson has been lauded for his poetic lyrical observations and commanding vocal presence, but even he has admitted that he's not the most compelling frontman. "I can sing, and you couldn't ask for a better band, but what I meant was that my entertainer skills are questionable at best," he says with a laugh. "But I've learned a lot over the last few years. It's not that I'm particularly bashful, but I just like to sing the songs and, between songs, prepare for the next song. But I'm trying to communicate better with the audience. I know that's important, and I enjoy it when an entertainer is more open."
Johnson is also a painter and uses the band to support the local visual-arts scene. Five paintings by different artists grace the CD sleeve for Strange and Sad but True, and a listening party last week at Art Prostitute in Deep Ellum revolved around paintings based on the album's songs.
"I've always been a fan of painting and sculpture," he says. "The idea was to bring a wide range of artists from around the area, have them pick a song that speaks to them, and use it to see what they can come up with. Man, it has been a big undertaking."
Sorta -- which also includes guitarist/keyboardist Carter Albrecht, guitarist/pedal steel player Ward Williams, bassist Danny Balis, drummer Trey Carmichael and recent addition Chris Holt on guitar -- came together in 2000 after Johnson left his old band, El Scorcho. Two recordings, Laugh Out Loud and Plays for Lovers followed in 2002, and Little Bay was released in 2004.
Despite critical hosannas, Sorta has never been able to break out of North Texas. Venture from the area and few know who they are. With luck, that will change with Strange and Sad but True, as good a calling card as the band is ever likely to have.
To that end, the group has hired a promotions person to hype the disc to college and alt-rock stations nationally. But don't look for Johnson to pack his bags for Los Angeles or New York.
"I'm from Texas," he sums up. "I'm used to big, open spaces."
- Fort Worth Star Telegram


"This Is Texas Music"

A few decades back, dropping the adjective "pop" (short for "popular") in front of the noun "music" was often a stamp of approval. Pop music was, well, popular. Jaded critics and pimple popping 14 year-olds alike fell in love with the hits of great bands from the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds to Squeeze, the Smiths, and REM.
Then, with the regrettable 1980s explosion of copycat synthesizer-and-hair-gel groups, "pop" assumed a negative connotation — one now more often associated with Britney Spears than Brian Wilson.
Recently, however, a new generation of pop-rock bands — and even some old geezers, like the members of Wilco and the Jayhawks who formed the tasty Bolanesque side-project, Golden Smog — has increased its share of the airwaves, cable, and the Internet.
While not strictly a "new" band, Dallas-based Sorta represents much that's great about this early 21st century pop renaissance, and their third full-length release, Strange and Sad but True, is an excellent album sure to broaden their fan base.
Founded as a duo by Trey Johnson and Danny Balis, Sorta plays catchy tunes with musical and lyrical depth by the bucket. Now a fully realized five piece, the band performs Johnson's carefully crafted songs with aplomb and provides the perfect undergirding to his enticingly imperfect voice.
If, as the cliché goes, "variety is the spice of life," Strange and Sad but True is a ball of fire. On "85 Feet and Falling" (listen), a childlike piano line stages a tragic tale of love and death: 85 feet and falling is not enough time to ask the question. Is this what I'm here for? Will this be my last confession? "Mama" (listen), the track that orbit's the disc's title, gains tremendously from the beautifully scratchy guitar line that darkens Johnson's dream soaked lyrics. "Pink and Baby Blue" (listen) is a lullaby-like reggae lilt that celebrates the joys of domestication: I found out love is dressed in pink and baby blue; if she gets cut, it can burn a hole right through you. And "Closer" (listen) is an electric piano driven jazz-fusion piece that mourns the inevitable distancing of even the closest relationships.
If you're looking for a concept album or a clearly defined sound, Sorta's Strange and Sad but True will disappoint you. But if you're looking for a tasty eclectic treat, this multifaceted collection of mature pop tunes will satisfy you first time through and then keep you coming back for more.
- This is Texas Music


"Austin Sound"

Sorta's Strange And Sad But True is dedicated to Lorena Osorio, a 21 year-old woman who was thrown from a highway overpass by her boyfriend, Paul Stephens. Frontman Trey Johnson offers Lorena's story in "85 Feet," a song that is equal parts touching, heartbreaking, and creepy. The creepiness comes from Johnson's detailed recounting of the tale: "her body came to lay on Janette Durham's Crown Victoria." Yet, the song also explains that this story is not a simple one "she was sweet and he was rotten / as with any story many sides will be forgotten."
While "85 feet" will haunt you enough to make you listen and re-listen, Johnson's storytelling prowess carries through the rest of the album. And the stories get slightly lighter even though the track list may not show it. With titles like "Party's Over" and "Nothing Left To Say," you might think this album is a downer, but Johnson finds a way to lighten the mood. Even a line like "damned if I do, damned if I don't / so sink another drink / pray to God that I don't choke" sounds more hopeful than you might expect.
Sorta's third full-length album is a perfect example of the band's range. While they may find themselves in the alt-country category, it isn't necessarily a comfortable fit. The opening track, "Buttercup," sets the tone, and whether you're a fan of previous Sorta tracks like "Alchohol Drip" and "Starry Eyed" or not, you'll be hooked from the get go. "Buttercup" starts slow and pretty only to build to a surprising crescendo of power chords, feedback, and drums before returning to its softer roots just as the song ends. The rest of the album continues this pattern of ebb and flow. The transition from "Goodnight," with it's heavy guitar and echoing vocals, to the soft string-picked guitars and pedal steel of "Nothing Left to Say" shows that Sorta lives up to its name. "Pink and Baby Blue" even has the hints of a ska/reggae beat. Each track of Strange And Sad But True will dare you to pin down its sound.
Johnson's vocal and songwriting talents take center stage, but this band is not thin on talent. Johnson gets help from keyboardist/guitarist Carter Albrecht (a man the Dallas Observer once claimed "might be Dallas' one true rock star") and bassist Danny Balis. Sorta also features Ward Williams on pedal steel and Trey Carmichael on percussion. (Most of the members of Sorta do double duty with a band called Sparrows. Fronted by Albrecht, Sparrows rearranges the pieces of Sorta to turn out a completely different sound.)
"Closer," is the only song on Strange and Sad But True not written by Johnson. Penned by Balis, it's a song about uneven love that fits nicely with Johnson's penchant for storytelling. If you're lucky enough to catch Sorta's CD release party August 25 at the Granada Theatre in Dallas, you may get to see Balis sporting some old school Ocean Pacific shorts as he strums his bass. In addition to playing bass for Sorta, Balis produces a drive-time talk show for sports radio station 1310 The Ticket (leave it to Sorta to mix indie rock and sports talk radio), and his Ticket cohorts recently offered him $1000 to don some short, short OP shorts on the Granada stage. It's a testament to Sorta's great talent that the sight of those pasty white legs won't take away from the poignant storytelling and eclectic sounds of Strange and Sad But True.
- Austin Sound


"Texas Music Magazine"

Like fellow North Texas roots rockers the Old 97's and Slobberbone (may they rest in beer suds), Dallas' Sorta has not necessarily gotten better as time has mucked on; they were pretty damned good in the first place. By album No. 3, you kind of expect bands to start faltering and "experimenting"....you know, messing things up. But Strange and Sad But True is simply an extension of their first two records — a lyrically dour, musically uplifting collection of songs about out-of luckers and out-of-timers that comfortably rollicks, like a ride in a '91 truck. Driven by singer Trey Johnson's backroad-worn voice, songs like "Buttercup," "Party's Over" and "Mama" need a little breathing room; please step aside and let the banjo, keyboards and pedal steel do their things. But under those sonic ornaments, cleverly poetic lyrics, harvest-gold melodies and fine musicianship prevail. Nope, nothing's changed a bit. - Malcolm Mayhew - Texas Music Magazine


"Miles of Music"

IT'S A CRACKER!
SORTA
Strange and Sad but True
It is impossible to pigeonhole Sorta into a specific "genre" of music. They bring in elements of roots music, classic Beatles-influenced power-pop, touches of the Talking Heads without the quirkiness, psych-influenced feedback, moments of Tupelo/early Wilco and it all works. The obvious statement is Sorta, hailing from Dallas, lives up to their name by exploring so many musical styles. The difference, is they've taken these disparate musical elements, thrown them together in a record that is stylistically all over the place, and made one of the truly interesting rock records of 2006. -- Jeff Weiss, Miles of Music (self-released) - Miles of Music


"Dallas Morning News"

Sorta indulges in a smorgasbord of styles
POP CD REVIEW: Dallas group's third CD expands beyond its country framework
10:20 AM CDT on Tuesday, August 8, 2006
By THOR CHRISTENSEN / The Dallas Morning News

It's hard enough being really good at one thing. But Sorta is one of those bands that tries out seven or eight different styles and, lo and behold, they all fit perfectly.

The Dallas group's third CD, Strange and Sad But True, still has lots of twang left over from its early days playing at the Barley House: The chiming "Party's Over" could pass for an outtake from the Eagles' Desperado.

But Sorta isn't a country band as much as a band that uses country as a springboard into a deeper pool of influences. One second, it's strolling through a reggae-pop gem such as "Pink and Baby Blue;" the next, it's cranking out power chords in a song tailor-made for modern-rock radio ("Lazybones"). Trying to peg Sorta is like trying to classify the Beatles' "White Album."

Tying all the styles together is singer Trey Johnson's warm tenor and soaring melodies. He's obviously listened to his share of Lennon-McCartney, but the other Sorta members balance his pop instincts with bold, experimental sounds.

"Buttercup" opens the CD on a surreal blues note, as martial drums melt into dark, trippy keyboards you'd expect to hear on an old Pink Floyd album. The trip gets lighter on "Water Music," with its sunny, psychedelic vibe and playful lyrics: "I listened to the sound of rocks the size of oranges rolling on the ocean floor."

But the mood doesn't stay light for long. By the song's end, a corpse is being dragged out of the sea.

It's not the only song by Mr. Johnson that ends in a body bag. "85 Feet and Falling" tells the true-life mystery of a Dallas man who threw his girlfriend off a Bush Turnpike overpass and then jumped to his own death.

Yet as bleak as the lyrics are, "85 Feet" is a deceptively jaunty sing-along, fueled by Ward Williams' breezy pedal steel and Carter Albrecht's lovely keyboard work. Strange and Sad But True might be full of grim tales, but musically, Sorta always knows how to put a smile on your face.
- Dallas Morning News


"The Trip Wire"

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.
- The Trip Wire


"Dallas Observer"

Three months ago, Sorta accepted its first Best Act in Town distinction at the Dallas Observer Music Awards, a major validation for a band that consistently produces some of the best music in this city--but also somewhat of an albatross. Because almost overlooked in the "Best Act" hoopla is the "in Town" disclaimer.
What's implied is that the band is still a Dallas band, for better or for worse. That might not be a burden for fresh-faced kids who've been playing for a few months or a couple years. But surely after decades of local gigs and grinding tours with dozens of different bands and side projects, the guys in Sorta must be getting anxious. In the past couple years they've had a song handpicked by Liz Phair for a nationally distributed compilation and others featured in commercials and trend-setting teen TV shows; those tastes of potential stardom can't help.
Now with a new album finally released and the recent addition of 2006 DOMA Musician of the Year winner Chris Holt on guitar, they're so close to the promised land the six guys must feel desperate to make the leap beyond respected locals. And with the mean age of a Sorta member at 35.5 years old, surely they're starting to feel like it's now or never. Right?
"No, there's no sense of urgency," lead singer Trey Johnson says. "I've got 30 years left, hopefully. I've never even thought about it."
Holt has obviously given it some consideration, listing all the reasons that experience, age and years outside the spotlight improve Sorta's condition. A minute later, keyboard player Carter Albrecht puts it more simply: "If we were 10 years younger, we'd be 10 years worse."
He dismisses the discussion as absurd and is so eager to swat away the question that it's hard not to wonder if he's a little sensitive about the matter.
"We're not an athletic band," he says. "It doesn't matter. We're not trying to fit into tight pants."
But they all agree that age--and the accumulation of obligations that comes with it--complicates the music.
"Having kids definitely does change it," says Johnson, the father of a 2-year-old. "You have to get up a lot earlier."
"It's harder to tour now unless there is money coming in that can pay the bills," bassist Danny Balis says later via e-mail. "We're not in the same boat that we were when we were 20 and can jump in a van at a moment's notice and deliver pizzas or bartend when we get home. Everyone has full-time jobs, kids, mortgages, etc., that demand priority."
Johnson's lyrics on Strange and Sad but True, as in previous releases, address the dilemmas of adulthood, comforting nostalgia and love. Often he writes in the oblique way you'd expect from a fanatical Bob Dylan admirer: "I have been turning to stone/So I go back to where I started from," Johnson sings in "Lazybones."
That seems to be the band's curse: They keep coming home again. Their audience has gradually expanded with each tour, write-up and song placement, but they haven't yet snapped those tethers holding them to the Big D. They're certainly not living the high life yet; drummer Trey Carmichael missed the group interview after the doughnut tire on his car blew out. Big-time rock stars don't usually drive on spares.
"I'm happy to be a local band and work with musicians I love," Carmichael later says by phone. "We can continue to be a Texas band forever if that's what is intended."
But they'll do it on their terms. Sortaweb.com instructs you to "File Under Rock, Pop, Roots," an obvious attempt to shed the "alt-country" label that has dogged the band. Johnson knows that comparisons to Wilco early in the band's career led to the tag, which fit Sorta just as poorly as it did Wilco. They are also open about their desire for a better-heeled record label than Summer Break Records to put out their next album.
The year-long delay of Strange (reported May 26 on Unfair Park) was due to financial difficulties at Summer Break, which still owns the rights to the album, but the guys claim to have self-released it. Johnson says he still believes Summer Break owner Robert Jenkins will help the band out however he can, considering his stake in it. (Jenkins did not respond to an interview request.)
So there were label woes, and during the delay Strange was made available for free download on MySpace. Wilco similarities don't end there: As on previous releases, Johnson's singing voice on Strange is sometimes remarkably similar to Jeff Tweedy's, despite the deep speaking voice so suited to the radio commercial voice work he recently quit. And the band's layered roots-rock with Albrecht's distinctive somber/spacey electric piano sometimes approximates Being There- and Summerteeth-era Wilco.
But Strange proves the band's might beyond such comparisons. The interplay between Albrecht's keys and pedal-steel player Ward Williams' subtle flourishes is essential on songs such as "Goodnight"; the players' efforts turn a potential acoustic-guitar yawn into a palpable - Dallas Observer


"Kool Kat Music"

Founded as a duo by Trey Johnson and Danny Balis, Sorta plays catchy, rootsy-like tunes with musical and lyrical depth by the bucket. On their new release, now as a fully realized five piece, the band performs Johnson's carefully crafted songs with aplomb, providing the perfect bedrock to his enticingly imperfect voice. "If 'variety is the spice of life', then this is a ball of fire. On '85

Feet and Falling', a childlike piano line stages a tragic tale of love and death. 'Mama', the track that orbit's the disc's title, gains tremendously from the beautifully scratchy guitar line that darkens dream soaked lyrics. 'Pink and Baby Blue' is a lullaby-like

reggae lilt that celebrates the joys of domestication. This multifaceted collection of mature pop tunes will satisfy you first time through and then keep you coming back for more!" - ThisIsTexasMusic.com "Their often dreamily poignant latest effort comes across as less Americana and just American, a rich blend of rock roots, pop jangle and Johnson's sturdy, casually soulful vocals.

Like Midlake, there's a '70s influence without sounding dated, whether it's in the acoustic beauty of 'Nothing Left To Say', the big, soaring hooks of 'Lazybones', or the Don Henley-style romantic disillusionment of 'The Party's Over'!" - StarTelegram.com "A

solid listen from start to finish and recommended for fans of Wilco and rootsy country rock and pop. Must be something really

good in the water down there (or maybe the proximity to Mexico and some of its 'herbal exports'. I have to say that I think these boys have listened to 'Summerteeth' at least a few (dozen) times!" - SnowGlobeUniverseblogspot.com

- Kool Kat Music


Discography

Sorta (2008)
Strange and Sad But True (2006)
Little Bay (2003)
Laugh Out Loud (2002)
More Myth EP (2002)
Plays For Lovers (2001).
Several tracks off of Little Bay and Strange and Sad but True received airplay on local americana and rock stations, and nation wide on college and AAA stations.

Photos

Bio

Sorta starts every song as a great folk song with careful lyrics and beautiful melody. Carter is a classically trained Rhodes pianist who plays with Edie Brickell and Charlie Sexton. He is also one of the most worshiped guitar players in Dallas. His only competition is Chris Holt, the most recent addition to Sorta, and Dallas Observer's Best Musician of 2006. Danny is the most coveted bass player in Dallas and adds beautiful harmony vocals. Ward Williams plays gorgeous steel guitar that is sometimes twangy and sometimes dreamy. Tom Bridwell is the newest member of Sorta, but a longtime friend and sound engineer, on drums. The comparisons are usually to Wilco, but I think that they remind me of the Band. With the two, sometimes three electric guitars, there also also Drive By Trucker moments, but this band is all original, with each member being an accomplished writter, singer, and multinstrumentalist. Their 2006 release, Strange and Sad but True, was playing on over 92 radio stations across the country after just 9 weeks of promotion. Sorta's songs have been played on One Tree Hill, The Unit, Without A Trace, and MTV's The Real World. Sorta's 2004 release, Little Bay, was NPR's #3 album of 2004 in Texas, only after Norah Jones and Willie Nelson. What sets Sorta apart is the depth of songwritting and musicianship, along with the fact that every member is perfectly capable and has fronted their own band and produced their own albums. Sorta hogs the Dallas talent and there is alot of good Dallas talent! After playing together for 7 years, Sorta suffered the loss of one of it's founding members, Carter Albrecht, in September 2007. At the time, the bad was in the process of completing it's 6th recording, self titled Sorta. The new album, which comes out September 16, 2008, features some first takes by Carter and some of his last moments with the band. Sorta releases this album with a very heavy heart but the desire to share this album with their fans and friends who have been so supportive over the years.