With La Si Dah, what you see is what you get: earnest, sweet acoustic-pop-reggae, inspired by many but so deep in its own influences that it doesn't feel inspiring.
When singing competition reality shows have finally faded into our collective cultural memory alongside police chase shows and The World's Blankiest Blank, the number of survivors clinging to a raft of actual talent and artistry will be few and far between. Enter Cas Haley, who nearly won season two of America's Got Talent, losing only in the finals to a ventriloquist who could sing opera — what are you gonna do? Haley may not have gotten the $100 million Vegas headlining deal, but he has released a string of independent records that bring together soul, pop, and reggae under a voice that at its finest made the oft-cranky Piers Morgan call “better than Sting”. Haley was a lovable everyman, a portly and nervous guy who cried on camera while talking about his wife. You couldn’t help but root for him, from the stage of America’s Got Talent all the way to his third album, La Si Dah.
Like America’s Got Talent winner Terry Fator, the centerpiece of Haley's act has always been his voice. It's slightly dismaying, then, that La Si Dah tries to position Haley as much as a guitar man as a singer with three instrumental tracks and a cover of an old blues guitar jam. The opening instrumental doesn't last long enough to really build a groove, sounding more like a breakdown or interlude than an opener. The second track, "La Dah", is far more successful. Haley's voice is strong and tender, soulful and clear as a bell. It’s groovy and smile-inducing. His voice and knack for storytelling carry that song.
On La Si Dah alone, Haley has been compared to Bob Marley, Ben Harper and John Mayer. Add to that Amos Lee, and even some John Popper-style scatting on “I’ve Got My Mojo Working”, a song made famous by Muddy Waters. The obviousness of its influences works against this record because La Si Dah feels indebted to other artists without the feeling that other artists will one day be indebted to it. Haley's music has always been reggae-inflected, but reggae influence (see his 2008 cover of “Easy Like Sunday Morning”) often works out better than attempts at full-on Marley-family jams. It’s hard to imagine anyone listening to “Mama” and feeling more inspired than they would be by the songs that inspired it.
Ultimately, the shining moments on La Si Dah aren't when Haley channels Marley, or Harper, or Mayer. He is strongest when stripped down, just sitting on the porch talkin’ story with his grandmother. That’s the Haley who sets crowds on fire, the guy who isn’t afraid to stand in front of a crowd with nothing but a guitar and a dream and let his spirit shine.