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Itasca Itasca
Album: Spring
Label: Paradise Of Bachelors
Tracks: 10

Itasca is the name under which California (LA) -based singer-songwriter Kayla Cohen operates when in "folk" mode, and it's the most apt tag for her latest collection, which is directly inspired by her discovery of the natural world through a six-month retreat to a 100-year-old adobe house in rural New Mexico. This came to pass following a particularly chaotic period in her personal life shortly after the release of (and subsequent acclaim that greeted) her 2016 album Open To Chance. Following the lead of artists like Georgia O'Keefe, Kayla discovered a stunning sense of inspiration from the landscape, developing a new vision of the world. She quickly found herself immersed in the landscape and history of the Four Corners region, its isolation and its rich cultural heritage, and concerned herself with exploring the nature of her true connection to the earth. This is both signified and celebrated in the new album's title, a double-meaning-plus which denotes the season of renewal itself and the scarcity of local water resources as well as "the spring deep in the mind that keeps us sifting".

The self-assured, laid-back and mellow yet somehow also slightly elusive nature of Kayla's songs proves highly addictive, for her creations are intimately conceived and intensely realised with a distinctive quality of quiet devotional repose and sometimes more than a touch of weird ambience. The most compelling of these tracks are the beautiful yet slightly sinister Voice Of The Beloved, the opening Lily and the closing A's Lament, but even though there's not a weak song here you need to be prepared for the fact that the overall drift of Kayla's songs rarely reaches a momentum above mid-tempo. In the words of the press release, "the high desert landscape provides a perfect metaphor for music that uncoils slowly, revealing its depths with a sense of timelessness reflecting the area where (the songs) were written."

Kayla's singing voice is gently mesmerising (entirely befitting the words and music in its understated soft deliberation), yet it cannot be ignored. Built around the light generated by a dappled acoustic guitar, the level of accompaniment varies between that lone instrument (Voice Of The Beloved, Cornsilk) and fuller textures with brushed drums, bass and strings (Only A Traveler, Bess's Dance, Comfort's Faces), while occasionally fleshed out even further with pedal steel, electric guitar and piano (Blue Spring). The roster of guest musicians comprises Chris Cohen, James Elkington and members of Gun Outfit and Sun Araw including Dave McPeters and Marc Riordan, and the whole thing is expertly engineered by Cooper Crain (of Bitchin' Bajas).

Intense determination notwithstanding, an overriding quality of hypnotic fragility characterises both Kayla's outlook and her expressive modus operandi, and the result is a seductive yet soothing album that really grabs the senses on close initial acquaintance and then offers even more on repeated play with its evocation of Kayla's newly-discovered "place beyond longing", her vision and transformation. I only wish the lyrics were available on the package, or at least on Kayla's website…

David Kidman