Maybe I’m missing some idealized version of the American West that I never really fully appreciated when I was growing up, but I’ve really taken a hankering to country music lately.
I’m not talking pretty much anything you’re going to see on CMT or hear on your local country station. (True story: I was in the car and had to scramble to change the station when a song I hated came up on the regular station and ended up somewhere entirely different. It was very pop/rock, but I couldn’t identify the song or singer. Two songs later, found out I’d stumbled onto the local country station. And sorry kids, but if your country music doesn’t have steel guitar and/or fiddle, it ain’t country. I don’t make the rules.)
Give me the REAL shit, the smell of dust and horses, desert sunsets and domestic beer. Give me poetry that sings of the high lonesome, of regret, of loss, all wrapped up with a twang of guitar and the crisp, clear razor of a steel guitar. The kind of country music that, honestly, I didn’t really think many people made anymore.
I was wrong, of course. That’s entirely what Kassi Valazza has given us here in her debut album, a tight nine songs, clocking in under 50 minutes. According to her bio, she grew up in the “vast open spaces of Arizona.” And despite the fact that she now lives in (and apparently recorded this album in) Portland, Oregon, I can still hear the desert in her voice. There’s also a hint of psychedelia in her songs–maybe it’s the dreamy quality. I can’t pin it down, but these songs shimmer and hum.
Songs like “Cayuse” (my favorite on the album), and “Running on Empty,” are packed with longing, beautifully written and crisply recorded. They could have been recorded by one of the queens of country seventy years ago. Yeah, I’m saying Patsy, Loretta, Tammy. “Johnny Dear” has a big sound, with ghostly guitars up front, lacing around Kassi’s whiskey-soaked voice and a light military style cadence and organ in the background. It’s timeless in much the same way that Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby album was almost two decades ago–the way k.d. lang’s Angel With a Lariat was timeless thirteen years before that.
Honestly, between this album, the previously discussed Delines, and Richmond Fontane, it’s sounding more and more like Portland, Oregon is becoming a great town for old-school country.
Kassi is pretty new to the scene. Dear Dead Days was just released in May, so get on board early and be one of the cool kids who knew who she was “before she was huge!” Of her four videos, one is an actual music video video of “Verde River” which, while being the song that brought her to my attention, isn’t my favorite on the album. That video has under 2,000 plays, and the others are well-recorded live songs from The Liquor Store show in early December 2018, none of them with more than 150 views as of this posting. The album up top links to her Bandcamp site, but I’m linking it again here. I heartily endorse picking this up.
“Mary” (posted below) is one of my favorites and is well worth a listen.