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Kassi Valazza, 'Watching Planes Go By'

I love songs about plane-spotting more than better-known hits about actually being in the air. Props to "Leaving on a Jet Plane" for elevating heartache and "Eight Miles High" for reaching peak altitude, but I'll always prefer a heart-worn tune and some lyrics about dreaming, wishing and never quite getting off the ground. A plane-spotting song can turn joyful, but more often it lingers in that all-too-human space of tenuous hope: not quite letting go of someone leaving,almost managing to take a next step yourself.

Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter Kassi Valazza captures a fluctuating melancholy perfectly on "Watching Planes Go By," a standout track from her enrapturing second album, out now on the West Coast's finest little label, Fluff & Gravy. Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing sees the Arizona-born artist trading in her twang, equivocally, for a hazy psychedelia highly evocative of late-1960s English folk music and its Laurel Canyon counterparts, especially early Joni Mitchell. "Watching Planes" invokes Mitchell's "Michael From Mountains" with a main character who's longing for vistas beyond his window. In the song, Valazza's Michael is, like Mitchell's, a free spirit — but he's been grounded by a broken foot, a mundane calamity that inspires a reverie about accepting limits and maintaining perspective. The magnificent swirl of sound and lyrical poeticism that Valazza and cosmic Americana band TK & the Holy Know-Nothings build around this glimpse of a guy looking skyward turns the song transcendent. To quote another heady kid who loves aerial metaphors, if flying on the ground is wrong, Valazza's gonna make it right.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.