Album review: Itasca’s ‘Open to Chance’ soothes the soul

Itasca
Itasca is the work of Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and guitar player Kayla Cohen.

When was the last time you laid down in a field and looked up? For two minutes, or a half-hour, or all through the afternoon? Honestly, it probably hasn’t happened lately for many of us. We are connected to the steel and the asphalt, slaves to the safe paths we have created for ourselves, in defiance of what the trees and the meadows and the streams would prefer. Our bodies thrive in the fresh air and rugged truth of what lays out beyond the city lights and suburban sprawl. It is in that field, away from it all, where Itasca’s latest creation “Open To Chance” lies.

itasca-open-to-chance-album-coverItasca is the work of Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and guitar player Kayla Cohen. Ever on-point label Paradise of Bachelors, which has released other-of-this-earth folk and rock albums from Nathan Bowles, Promised Land Sound, Gun Outfit and James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg, scores again by picking up Cohen and giving her a chance to live up to the potential she has shown on previous releases. Her Paradise of Bachelors debut is the first to feature a full band to help fill out her soft, but firm acoustic picking. Her touring and recording band is a bevy of Los Angeles musicians and currently consists of pedal steel player Dave McPeters, drummer Coleman Guyon, and bassist and vocalist Julia Nowak, giving this album a particular L.A. feel to it.

It’s a tired and overused cliche, but the atmospheric openness of the “Open To Chance” really makes watching the day pass above you while outside in nature seem like one of the best ways to spend your time listening to the album. Cohen’s acoustic work is nimble and airy and catches her wafty voice beautifully on “Right This Time.” The guitarist picks confidently and her phrasings and melodies consistently catch your ear throughout the album with fragile, interesting accents. “Daylight Under My Wing” is one such gem that hangs in the air. Cohen picks a melody that perches in the floral orange blossoms of the tree with doves waiting for the sun to sink below the branches on the horizon. Piano and recorders warm the dainty track and, before you know it, they have slipped out of sight along with the sun.

A couple of takes with Cohen’s full band keeps the world turning underneath you while you rest in the open. “Buddy” shimmers like a the reflection of the sun on a silver necklace hanging around the rear view mirror of a Volkswagen van cruising along The 86 toward Joshua Tree. The golden pedal steel echos marvelously over the burnt earth and the song rolls lightly along, Cohen and the band conjuring those warm rhythms of the desert. There is a little more at stake in the gliding “G.B,” as if a brighter future is just over the next bend. Cohen uses her band well, giving more sounds for her acoustic talents to play with while never overpowering the inherent beauty of her sound.

“Open To Chance” gives reason to slow down our lives and take a moment to acknowledge the world around us. It might take a couple of minutes, but eventually time will slow and suspend in front of you. You will feel eternal as you gaze at what surrounds you, whatever that may be. Don’t forget to take in these moments as you flutter from one day to the next. It is the only way to soothe the ever-present pressure of time.

  • Itasca
    ‘Open To Change’
    Release: Sept. 30, 2016
    Label: Paradise of Bachelors

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