Roma di Luna's new CD an 'emotional workout'

Channy sings
Channy Moon Casselle, accompanied by Roma di Luna bandmate Ben Durrant on guitar. Channy sings with a wrenching, emotional style.
Photo Courtesy of Roma di Luna

Despite its European-sounding name, the Minneapolis band Roma di Luna is firmly grounded in the American folk tradition. There are also hints of the blues, gospel, and even psychedelia thrown in. The group celebrates the release if its new CD Saturday night at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

In a way, Roma di Luna was Alexei and Channy Moon Casselle's wedding gift to each other. On paper, Alexei -- a rapper whose stage name is Crescent Moon -- and Channy -- a classically trained violinist -- were from vastly different musical worlds.

But the sweethearts, who met at Minneapolis South High, shared a deep love of folk music. As financially deprived newlyweds with no TV, they made their fun as buskers.

"It was really just playing music out on the street corner and making money, just to make some extra cash and studying old folk songs," Channy said.

For the Casselles, folk music has an honesty and a timelessness they strive for in their own songs. But there's also a more intangible quality in the music for Channy Casselle.

"There's this idea in gypsy music where you have the duende, this emotion that a singer brings out that is hard to even explain," said Channy, "but you know when you feel it. It makes you kind of choke up when you see them singing. That's what we're reaching for."

Roma di Luna
Roma di Luna, featuring founders Channy Moon Casselle (center) and husband Alexei Casselle (right.)They started playing together right after they got married.
Photo Courtesy of Roma di Luna

Roma Di Luna has blossomed over the last five years, from a husband-wife duo crafting what some critics called "dustbowl folk," into a full-fledged band. Players such as guitarist Ben Durrant and bassist James Everest help supply a more textured and atmospheric backdrop for Channy Casselle's mournful wail of a voice.

You can hear the difference throughout the new CD, "Then the Morning Came." It even contains a more muscular updating of an early Roma di Luna song, "Before I Die."

But "Before I Die" also fits into a thematic thread, of death and new life, that binds the new album together. Both Channy Casselle and Ben Durrant had just lost close family members. At almost the same time, five of the seven musicians in the group, including the Casselles, were becoming new parents.

To Alexei Casselle, the songs were a way to work through the extreme grief and incredible joy they were feeling.

"It's kind of scary to put stuff that's that personal ... out there," he said. "But for the people that it does resonate with, it's going to be that much more moving and that much more powerful."

Channy, Alexei & Ben
Channy Moon Casselle on vocals, husband Alexei Casselle on acoustic guitar with guitarist Ben Durrant in the background. Roma di Luna started five years ago as a husband/wife folk duo, and has evolved into a seven-member band.
Photo Courtesy of Roma di Luna

"I think we were just kind of like, we have these losses and these births," Channy Casselle said. "But also there's a lot of stuff going on in the world, that we're bringing these babies into. And you just feel so much more passionate about wanting things to be better, and wanting things to be hopeful."

Roma di Luna has grown and evolved. Star Tribune music critic Chris Riemenschneider admits he was worried the group would lose its original intimacy. But Riemenschneider says that hasn't happened, because the core of the band still centers on the interplay between Alexei and Channy Casselle.

"They're sort of writing songs for each other," he said. "Dealing with their emotions in these songs, and they're dealing with them together."

"Then the Morning Came" can be an emotional workout for listeners. But Alexei Casselle thinks it might also have an almost calming effect.

"It's actually a very meditative record," he said. "For those that want to take the time and actually sit with it, it probably will get better with each listen."

It will also stand for Roma di Luna members as a document of one of the bleakest -- and most hopeful -- periods in their lives.

The band's CD release party is Saturday night at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

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