The Upshot: Sonic stylings that are sweet, sour, and serene, and who has learned how to marry those key songwriting elements to most memorable effect.
BY FRED MILLS
There’s an occurrence, about a half-hour into Joshua-Tree-by-way-of-Ohio singer/songwriter Grant LaValley’s long-playing debut, that could be crudely described as “sealing the deal” for you, the otherwise increasingly transfixed listener. It’s an extended version of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush impressionistic, druggy gem “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”: Reverently spare and true to the original melody for the first couple of verses, it subtly turns noirish—gothic, even—as distant cello and trumpet murmurs, lined with ambient noises, drift in, the volume rising uneasily to match LaValley’s neo-gospel vocal swells; he returns to the “it’s only castles burning…” chorus tag at the close, but by that point Young’s line is no longer one of reassurance, but of deathly inference. You’re left utterly haunted.
”DLIBYD” is the only cover on From LaValley Below, but it speaks volumes to this newcomer’s frame of reference, as he’s clearly cut from classic folk-rock cloth. Earlier on the album, one encounters originals such as “The In-Betweens,” a shuddery slice of midperiod solo Gene Clark; as well as the mournful, minor chord meditation “Dark Love,” and the contrasting uplift of “Seasons,” for which LaValley’s gentle fretboard pluckings are abetted by gorgeous cello-grand piano interplay and no less than his Joshua Tree neighbor Victoria Williams’ angelic warble.
And while it would be premature to make any grand pronouncements of, or predictions for, LaValley, his hermetic, almost isolationist approach to music-making certainly marks him as a man who has soaked in sonic stylings that are sweet, sour, and serene, and who has learned how to marry those key songwriting elements to most memorable effect. Keep an eye on him.
The album’s also pressed up on sweet wax – vinyl (not vinyls, newbies) to all you serious music fans. Also worth seeking out is LaValley’s recent, elaborately packaged 45 (also on Exit Stencil), “Let the Light Shine In” b/w “Dark Love” – the former track was co-written with songwriter/producer M. Craft, who LaValley met after moving to Joshua Tree. (Great minds think alike in the desert, eh?) It’s a must-own for vinyl collectors, and on heavy vinyl, at that – is it possible to have a 7” weighing in at 180 gms.?
DOWNLOAD: “Seasons,” “The In-Betweens,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”