Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing is a misnomer of an album title, because the woman knows how to create a damn mood. Though now based in Portland, Oregon, Valazza’s hazy melodies and lyrics that live just a bit west of reality reflect a youth spent in Arizona’s arid open spaces. Her songs end up as half country, half cosmic, with a not-insubstantial side of psych – music made for a road trip with absolutely no idea of a destination.
For such a wide-lens, open-country album, Kassi Valazza begins, curiously enough, pining for home. “Room in the City” finds the singer, accompanied by organ and harmonica, out on the road, making music and missing someone, wishing to once again be surrounded by love and the comfort of “yellow walls [that] keep me company.” “Corners” also tackles memories, but it’s a balance between sweet – “I wonder if I called you/Would it be alright/To say I loved you” – and sour – “It’s times like these I wish I couldn’t keep you/Tucked within the corners of my mind.”
The wide-open feeling endemic in so much of Valazza’s previous work fully arrives in “Watching Planes Go By.” …Knows Nothing was recorded live-to-tape by Portland musicians – TK & the Holy Know-Nothings – who hadn’t heard the songs before hitting the studio. The effect of hearing the players flesh out Valazza’s ideas – stacking guitars on top of keys until breaking open into a full-fledged psychedelic jam – is the perfect retort to the song’s sedate character – “Autumn leaves turn to yellow/And green turns to jealousy/Watching days go by” – who desperately needs a push out of the door. It’s one of the most satisfying, cathartic musical moments so far this year.
That music-as-antidote-to-inertia also shows up in “Rapture,” where Valazza pushes – ever so gently- a lover to step up his game – “You don’t know how fire works/It burns too slow, you’ll lose it.” In the much darker “Welcome Song,” though, the weight of waiting has become too much. Not quite sleeping, she’s roused by a visitor she doesn’t want – “Outside the door your feet were found/I didn’t move or make a sound.” As fury replaces lethargy – “I’ll build you up, I’ll build you down” – and guitars swirl, it’s yet another reminder that a well-written song and a small group of musicians serving those words can create any mood that the writer desires. This is even more evident in the cover she chooses to conclude the record. “Wildegeeses,” penned by “outsider folk” artist Michael Hurley, is the perfect autumnal antidote to Valazza’s heated summer of an album. Acoustic guitar and hushed fiddle pace this one, with all the signs of approaching winter serving as a reminder of emptiness – “But there ain’t no chill wind/Blowing through our love nest.” Here, it’s the cold that serves Valazza’s mood, and darned if it doesn’t make you shiver.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Watching Planes Go By” – I’m a bit young to have lived during the true psychedelic era, but this one delivers all the highs and lows found in the time of Iron Butterfly, just much more efficiently.
Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing was produced by Tyler Thompson, Kassi Valazza and Taylor Kingman and engineered by Thompson. All original songs written by Kassi Valazza. Additional musicians on the album include Jay Cobb Anderson (harmonica, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel, electric bass, Farfisa, vocals), Taylor Kingman (electric bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals), Lewi Longmire (pedal steel, piano, electric bass, trumpet, Leslie, fiddle, vocals), Sydney Nash (organ, pianet, Leslie, piano, Farfisa, acoustic 12-string guitar, cornet, Wurlitzer, electric bass), Tyler Thompson (drums, bass), Ned Folkerth (boran, bells, maraca, tambourine, triangle) and Jefferson Longmire (bark),
Go here to order Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing (out May 26): https://kassivalazza.bandcamp.com/album/kassi-valazza-knows-nothing
Check out tour dates here: https://www.kassivalazza.com/tour