Bobby Valentine – Fox Eyes, Whale Heart
Bobby Valentine is a Northern California based songwriter and guitar player releasing his third album Fox Eyes, Whale Heart. It’s a wonderfully rounded, acoustic based outing with an even dozen songs that, despite their stripped back origins, indulge in some fantastic musical ideas. There’s nothing remotely experimental about any of it. Valentine is a songwriter who has mastered the fundamentals of song construction, has a great sense of what constitutes promising grist for his mill, and hits all of the expected marks. However, he has the creativity to utilize traditional instrumentation in unexpected ways. Valentine’s music has landed important spots in radio, movies, and television, but Fox Eyes, Whale Heart will undoubtedly increase his exposure.
“Carry Me Away” sounds like a natural first single. This is soaring folk pop with a varied singing performance from Valentine. His clear, open-hearted voice veers from understated energy in the verses to full-throated joy in the chorus. Valentine has an unique ability to transform even the most ambiguous lyric into an assertion of life thanks to nothing else but the vitality of his voice. He sounds fully engaged at every moment. The third song “Haunted House” is one of the album’s highlights. The song sways with a slightly behind the beat grace and Valentine tackles a possibly self-pitying lyric without a drop of sentimentality. “Lion in the Summer” is a powerful pop platter with strong acoustic guitars that hardly mask its thumping rock and roll heart. Valentine turns in a soulful singing performance that, likewise, stands out even among the great songs neighboring it.
Despite being a solo acoustic guitar performance, “Ever Since” has a real swing that sweetens an otherwise exceptional lyric. This is a song about seizing your independence and asserting your identity, so crouching it in a stripped back acoustic track focuses listeners on its message. “Belly of the Beast” has some of the same rock and roll spirit enlivening tracks like “Lion in Summer” and Valentine’s vocal embodies that attitude thoroughly. “Ungrateful” is another fantastic personal track that, nevertheless, achieves a greater resonance because Valentine is speaking about emotions we all increasingly experience as we gain and earn insight into our own lives. There’s something almost hymnal about “Sing Alone” and the faint echo of keyboard hanging in the background strengthens the impression. It’s a slowly developing track that utilizes a lot of musical dynamics and has a great spot near the album’s end. The closer “Something You Happen To” has a wonderful finishing quality like the final chapter in a novel. It brings together the various emotional strands tying the songs together while looking towards the future. Valentine’s vocal is particularly sensitive.
Fox Eyes, Whale Heart is colorful musical experience bursting with a surplus of energy. Valentine is eager to perform and connect with his listeners. The songs he’s written are ideal for these purposes and he keeps things uncluttered and pared down in order to hit his targets. This is his undoubted peak as a writer and performer, but be sure that taller peaks are waiting in his future.
9 out of 10 stars.