Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and guitaristKayla Cohen has been recording as Itasca since 2010 but Open to Chance is her first album to feature the full band with whom she currently records and tours. The line-up includes pedal steel player and frequent collaborator Dave McPeters, drummers Coleman Guyon and, occasionally, Kacey Johansing together with bassist/vocalist Julia Nowak. Later tracks on the album make use of flute in the arrangements.
The album’s opener Buddy begins with fingerstyle guitar very suggestive of Suzanne Vega’s work but there the comparison ends. The introduction of pedal steel takes us out of Vega’s city into a wider landscape of, as the accompanying PR suggests, country songs in the loose, sun-shot Southern Californian sense. However, the songs here are a long way from clichéd desert truck stops and neon signs for motels.
The first four tracks of Open to Chance can be, more or less, characterised in this way but Layman’s Banquet which follows is essentially a solo voice and guitar piece. This change leads the way to the second half of the album which begins with track six Carousel. Unlike any other song on the album, this opens with piano, the pedal steel returning much further back in the mix than on the four opening ‘country’ songs. The mood of the album changes here becoming perhaps more melancholy. This mood is reflected in the instrumentation which, while still centred on Cohen’s fingerstyle acoustic, gets a little darker. On Just for Tomorrow, track seven, the brighter pedal steel of the first four tracks is replaced with reflective flute and either cello or bass bowed up the neck. It is this melancholic, reflective mood which continues throughout the rest of the album although the musical feel is lightened somewhat on tracks nine and ten, Daylight under my Wing and Right this Time respectively.
The playing on Open to Chance is well fitted to the songs being both adept and mannered. Cohen is a talented guitarist whose accompaniments are both fitting and inventive. Her voice is a fine instrument, at times both dreamy and interestingly husky and her lyrics are well away from the predictable. At different points in the album, I found myself thinking of Rumer’s Slow, some aspects of early Natalie Merchant’s delivery and even Judee Sill’s work… and I’m still not altogether sure why.
I enjoyed the album and my only problem with Open to Chance is the production of the vocals. Not unusually for nowadays, the voice is back in the mix but there is something else going on here. To me Cohen’s vocals seemed over-processed, maybe with delay or maybe by multi-tracking and slipping tracks by a few milliseconds, but the effect is to make the lyrics too often inaudible particularly if, like me, you listen on good speakers rather than headphones. It seems a terrible shame when the songs are obviously crafted with care. Itasca is an artist with much to offer, so may I make my personal plea for some changes in vocal production on the next release.
Open to Chance is Out Now via Paradise of Bachelors
Don’t miss her European Tour Dates opening for Ryley Walker
Itasca Tour Dates
13 October – Los Angeles, CA – Resident – Record Release show w/ Simon Joyner, David Nance
14 October – Los Angeles, CA – Daytime in-store performance at the Numero Group pop-up store (4PM)
Fall 2016 East Coast/Midwest
25 October – Minneapolis, MN – Coming Soon*
26 October – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle*
27 October – Lafayette, IN – The Spot*
28 October – Indianapolis, IN – State Street Pub
29 October – Nashville, TN – The 5 Spot w/ Promised Land Sound
30 October – Asheville, NC – The Mothlight w/ Wes Tirey
31 October – Durham, NC – tba
01 November – Philadelphia, PA – tba w/ Rosali
02 November – Brooklyn, NY – Union Pool w/ Zachary Cale, Pigeons
03 November – Cleveland, OH – Happy Dog
*with Moon Bros
Europe dates, opening for Ryley Walker:
07 November – Amsterdam, NL / Paradiso Noord
08 November – Groningen, NL / VERA
09 November – Paris, FR / Espace B
10 November – Brussels, BE / AB Club
11 November – Bruges, BE / Cactus Club
13 November – Brighton, UK / The Haunt
14 November – Manchester, UK / Ruby Lounge
15 November – Glasgow, UK / Broadcast
16 November – Birmingham, UK / Hare & Hounds
17 November – London, UK / Islington Assembly Hall
29 November – Lausanne, CH / Le Bourg
30 November – Schorndorf, DE / Manufaktur
01 December – Erlangen, DE / E-Werk
02 December – Berlin, DE / Kantine am Berghain
04 December – Oslo, NO / John Dee
05 December – Stockholm, SE / Bryggarsalen
06 December – Copenhagen, DK / Pumpehuset
07 December – Hamburg, DE / Nochtspeicher