Raised in Arizona, currently residing in Portland, Kassi Valazza gravitates to the sunnier side of the west coast of the USA on her album, Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing. She not only gravitates, she time travels also as the album is liberally sprinkled with touches of psychedelia and freak folk (before it was even a thing). Her touchstones seem to be lesser known psych acts such as Pearls Before Swine along with the shimmering haze of Tim Buckley and while it might be tempting to compare her to someone like Linda Perhacs, Valazza is much more grounded and much less ethereal.
While Valazza has a glorious, seemingly effortless vocal delivery, her words coming across as quite honeyed, much of the album’s success lies in her choice of backing band. Portland’s TK & The Holy Know-Nothings (hence the somewhat punning album title) who play superbly throughout. There’s a chemistry between them, heard best on the album’s highlight, Watching Planes Go By, and it’s quite astonishing to read that Valazza essentially presented the songs to the band in the studio with no rehearsals beforehand, the band having to make it up as they went along.
The album opens with one of the more conventional songs here. Room In The City is a wearied country tinged waltz which opens with Valazza on the road but pining for her home comforts and a warm embrace. It drifts along quite wonderfully, her words wafted gently over some great harmonica playing. There’s a Neil Young Harvest touch to the music here and it’s a perfect album opener. This extremely pleasant (and almost narcotic) cosmic country sound reappears on Song For A Season and on Long Way From Home (I’ll Ride You Down), the latter finding Valazza quite dispassionate as she dissects a failing relationship while the band limp alongside her quite wonderfully. The Know-Nothings go on to stamp their personality on the guitar laden Smile, lifting Valazza’s tale here of regrets into yet another cosmic orbit.
Amidst these already glorious songs, there are a brace of numbers which just simply astonish. Rapture is a perfect balance between the singer and the band with their limpid playing just perfect in its delicacy. Canyon Lines, a delicate portrait of a woman in an existential crisis, worms its way into your head with its spectral organ and skeletal guitar lines. Chief of all is the astonishing Watching Planes Go By. It’s rare these days for a song to stop you in your tracks but when this reviewer first heard this song on a local radio station we were instantly transfixed. Here Valazza weaves a tale of enforced boredom which leads to flights of fancy while the band go full blown into lysergic acid folk rock – Country Joe and The Fish battling it out with The Grateful Dead if you wish. In any case, it’s quite mind blowing.
On an album which just about achieves perfection, closing it with a cover song might have been a letdown. But here Valazza comes up trumps again with her delivery of Michael Hurley’s Wildgeeses, allowing her and the band to pay tribute to their living legend neighbour. It wraps up an album which is poised to be one of the best we’ve heard this year.