Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing
Loose Records/Fluff and Gravy
Timeless Vocals, Edgy Lyricism and Haunting Melodies Make This an Album of the Year Contender
There has been considerable anticipation over this release – as here in the UK, Kassi has been building up quite the reputation through word of mouth, which culminated recently in a short tour where she did her reputation no harm at all – in fact, if anything the buzz got stronger still, with mentions in The Times newspaper of all places.
I was lucky enough to see several of those shows and in the trio set-up – Kassi on guitar and vocals, Erik Clampitt on pedal steel and Tobias Berblinger on keyboards – her voice was to the fore and beautifully and sensitively supported by her musical partners. I was mildly concerned then, after coming to the songs in the live arena first, that there might be too much distracting musical clutter.
Spoiler – I needn’t have worried.
“Room in the City” which kicks off the album is a lyrical delight – harmonica is added to the live version of the song that I’d heard and it adds a melancholic counterpoint to Kassi’s voice which is somewhere between a young Iris DeMent and Sierra Ferrell (via Sandy Denny and Nanci Griffith ) in its timeless beauty.
“Rapture” which follows is inspired by Kassi’s life-long friend, who told the 6 year old Kassi “You don’t know how fire works” when getting up to no good – and it’s been a bonding catch-phrase between the two ever since, which forms the core of this utterly gorgeous song.
Moving from the catchiest of verses with a fragile yet pure vocal, to the catchiest of emotional choruses, you won’t find a better song this year.
…although “Corners” comes close – with added Ronettes drum intro and rhythmic punctuation, it’s a song from a long missed West Coast past.
Soaring backing vocals reinforce the tremulous nature of Kassi’s vocal and question “Would it Be Alright to Say I Love You?”
I think we know the answer to that.
“Watching Planes” is one song which adds more in terms of accompaniment from its trio live incarnation – but only after a gentle start which winds up in true scuzzy guitar fashion into a mushroom haze of swirling psychedelia. Juxtaposition between the purity of the vocal and the simplicity of the song’s core sentiment swing this into …. Doors territory.
There’s a gentler move on “Song For a Season” where KV declares “I’d like to be someone else” – distant brass pads underscore the chorus to emphasise the fact that “still my love for you it grows”.
This combination of self-doubt and uncertain confidence appears on the following track “Long Way From Home” too, where it’s declared that “I’d rather be lonely than on my own”– a stripped back arrangement, this one (to these ears) sounds closest to the feel of the songs on her recent tour (percussion aside that is).
“Canyon Lines”, simply from its title is the song most geographically – and in terms of its imagery – rooted in the US Southwest . It’s a tale of a person spiritually inseparable from her environment, delivered with a wise novel writer’s eye for literal and metaphorical detail.
It’s followed by the song which has most recently been turned into a promo video – “Smile” – musically it’s superficially more upbeat but as ever, there’s uncertainty and doubt aplenty
“but good intentions go unnoticed – and I fare better on my own”
…I know how you feel Kassi, I know how you feel… all of this is draped in the most gloriously delicate melody – with some added double-tracked 70s guitar thrown in for good measure.
“Welcome Song” is ironically musically less than welcoming in tone – in feel, it’s a Celtic-goth warning ballad for the 21st century. Melodic shifts reflect shifts in intensity of the darkness in the song and it’s all let out with a howl of raging guitar at its climax. Things draw to a conclusion with a Michael Hurley cover song – “Wildageeses” – but whereas Hurley’s delivery was somewhat vocally cracked and rough, there’s a fascinating duality in Valazza’s take – there’s a thread of something untoward in the timelessness of the melody.
KV obviously has a Hurley fascination at this moment in time – live she’s been playing an eerie version of his “Light Green Fellow”
(*Loose Records – please get Kassi to record this. Thanks!)
and signs of timeless, literary oddness are visible in her work too.
How to sum this up?
Album of the year.
Will that do?
It’ll do for me.
Review by Nick Barber
Released 29tj May 2023
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