Kassi Valazza weaves mystical country folk on stunning sophomore effort.
The interval that opens ‘Room in the City’, the first track on Kassi Valazza’s excellent second album, ‘Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing’, sounds like an ending – a moment of closure where loose ends and troubles are resolved. This resolution belies the album’s dominant themes of lonesomeness, longing and helplessness against the passing of time, yet also reflects Valazza’s calm acceptance of these difficult emotions, as she explores their inherent tensions and contradictions. This highly rewarding album blends elements of country, traditional folk and psychedelia to create a sound that is lonesome yet warm, haunting yet rich. Across the set, Valazza’s rich imagery and evocative voice, backed by multi-instrumentalists from Portland band TK & the Holy Know-Nothings, conjure vast vistas of hazy foothills, dusty ochre roads, verdant river valleys and wide blue skies scattered with passing clouds.
The apparent simplicity of some tracks is deceptive, as repeated listens reveal their intricate, filmic structures and subject matter. ‘Rapture’ builds from fingerpicked acoustic guitar to gentle swells of harmonica, electric guitar and percussion – subdued clicks mimic the striking of matches and the Pianet line sounds like dripping in a cave, mirroring the lyrical motifs of fire and cold.
The album’s springiest songs, ‘Corners’ and ‘Smile’, are more country-tinged, a little like early Linda Ronstadt or even Glen Campbell with a fresh lyrical twist. Both songs centre around troubled relationships and longing, yet Valazza is stoic and accepting of the inevitability of change and people drifting apart: “I let the silence come between us, and I let my pride take its place… I guess I never had no patience, for doing things a different way” she sings on ‘Smile’.
On the album’s centrepiece, ‘Watching Planes Go By’, Valazza touches on the progression of time, youth giving way to maturity, and the suddenness with which the seemingly endless present can drift into the past. The lyric “Rock n’ roll pours out the radio, taking shape of sunken hills and UFOs” perfectly encapsulates the simultaneity of the mundane and the mystical that characterises the small, still moments of the present. Later, the line “Ego trips like sunken ships washed ashore, salted galleons bold and brass you can’t ignore” surveys the past’s landscape of unfulfilled dreams and inaction from the perspective of age. The track segues from traditional folk fingerpicking into a gentle, psychedelic trot before a brilliantly ragged guitar solo sends the track soaring like the titular planes, roaming unbridled like youthful dreams of boundless possibility. On the song’s downward arc, the fingerpicking and trot return, bringing the listener back around, just as time moves on and seasons repeat.
Another standout is the halting waltz, ‘Long Way From Home (I’ll Ride You Down)’, with lyrics suggesting the inherent contradictions of creativity and itinerance: “You asked for a tree whose roots wouldn’t grow”, whilst addressing the compromises necessary in the life of a touring musician: “I’d rather be lonely, than on my own”.
On ‘Canyon Lines’, Valazza displays an adeptness for character studies, offering glinting vignettes of a woman who works for the highway. The steady rolling rhythm is like passing cars, days and faces, and the touches of distorted guitar as the song closes out are like those transient visitors fading and disappearing on the horizon.
The final Valazza original is ‘Welcome Song’, with its stream-of-consciousness lyrics and folk melody blossoming into a bluesy jam with electric guitar and Wurlitzer. The album closes with a beautiful cover of Michael Hurley’s ‘Wildegeeses’, the intertwining of acoustic guitar, fiddle and Valazza’a voice invoking a spirit of contented melancholy, ending the set by drawing out the tensions explored both sonically and lyrically across the album.
‘Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing’ is an album of subtly brilliant songs. This is sure to be one of the best country albums of the year, drawing from country and folk tradition to shape something fresh and unique. Instantly beguiling, repeated listens reveal hidden earworms and an intricate world of wistful characters dealing with both stasis and change.