Local Music: Roma di Luna: A dark, new Moon on the rise

Despite their different musical backgrounds, husband/wife team Alexei and Channy Moon Casselle found unlikely harmony in their acoustic duo.

Of all the Twin Cities musicians who play in two or more bands, probably none can claim to make a sharper 180-turn between his acts than Alexei Moon Casselle.

"The gigs have been hard to get used to," Casselle said about his new-ish guitar/violin duo Roma di Luna, which he formed with his wife, Channy Moon Casselle.

"A lot of its power comes from the quietness. That's very different from what I'm used to."

Before Roma di Luna, he was better known by his rapper name, Crescent Moon. It's the moniker he used in Oddjobs, the hip-hop group he formed with four pals just out of high school. It's also what Slug always called him onstage with Atmosphere, with whom he frequently tours as the group's hype-man/backup MC (but not this fall).

Crescent Moon is also the name he still uses in Kill the Vultures, his abrasive, harrowing, schizophrenically noisy hip-hop duo with fellow Oddjobs alum Anatomy (Stephen Lewis). If Tom Waits was into rap, the Vultures could be his favorite group.

Waits might find more to like in Roma di Luna, though. Alexei and Channy created their rustic, semirootsy, sometimes uncomfortably intimate folk act after they got married in a quick whir of romance -- preceded by years of friendship -- in June 2005.

"We were high-school sweethearts, but then we sort of went our different ways," Channy recounted over drinks last week, completely understating their separate paths.

She worked at an orphanage in Cambodia through Americorps after high school (Minneapolis South). He and Oddjobs sought their big break by moving to New York and Berkeley, Calif.

While in New York, Alexei started playing and songwriting with a borrowed acoustic guitar (P.O.S. later bought him a six-string as a birthday present). He sought solace in the music, and in Channy.

"I sent her a tape with some songs," he said with an embarrassed smirk. "I was trying to impress her and get her back."

Channy came from a folk/Americana past and was classically trained on violin. Once married, the couple somehow found a way to also wed their two musical backgrounds.

"It wasn't a case of, 'Let's start a band and make records,'" Alexei explained. "Music was already a big part of both our lives, so it just sort of happened naturally. I never would've guessed that two years later, we'd already be putting out our second CD."

That second album, "Find Your Way Home," proves that Roma di Luna is much more than just a hobby for the young newlyweds, both 26, to enjoy on weekends. On Thursday, they headline the Cedar Cultural Center's free season kickoff show, which doubles as their CD-release party.

Produced by Ben Durrant (soon after he finished Andrew Bird's acclaimed new album), the new disc features a lot of eerie ambience and rustic instrumentation, which suits the hallowed-sounding songs. However romantic the duo's origins, these songs are anything but lovey-dovey.

One tune is about north Minneapolis violence ("The Devil Walks"). Another is about barren women ("No Child of My Own"). Both singers explore their American Indian roots in the rousing sing-along "Bury Me (Beneath the Killing Fields)." And Alexei bravely revisits his strained relationship with his father in the title track, a topic he has also hit on in Kill the Vultures.

In fact, the lyrics on "Find Your Way Home" would be at home among Alexei's hip-hop albums.

"Most of Alexei's songs are very dark, and a lot of them are about downtrodden, oppressed people," Channy said. Alexei had a simpler description: "Like everything else, rap can be traced back to the blues."

While he's better-known, Channy is the real star of Roma di Luna. She has a riveting voice, at once sirenlike and sweet but also fragile and haunted-sounding. It's a sharp contrast to his booming, dry, leathery voice.

  • ROMA DI LUNA

    With: JoAnna James.

    When: 7 p.m. Thu.

    Where: Cedar Cultural Center, 416 Cedar Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: Free. 612-338-2674.

    Soundbites: For audio samples, go to startribune.com/music or call 612-673-9050 and enter 5355 for "No Child of My Own" or 5356 for "Find our Way Home."

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