What do you get when you fuse members from two fairly popular nineties bands to produce an album in 2006 that sounds like a throwback to the early days of eighties pop? The answer is: Northey Valenzuela.
Northey Valenzuela consists of former Odds guitarist/vocalist Craig Northey, and original Gin Blossoms vocalist and guitarist Jesse Valenzuela. Since the late nineties, Northey and Valenzuela have contributed to each others’ solo albums, and have also played together on a number of other people’s albums. Star 7 is their first fully collaborative work.
It’s a fairly upbeat, retro-oriented work that borrows heavily from Rockpile, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty and Travelin’ Wilbury’s and to a lesser extent, Alex Chilton’s seminal but largely unknown Big Star. But what really caught my ear was Valenzuela’s seamless songwriting hooks and down to the bone lyrics, Northey’s beautifully harmonic guitars, and the under-appreciated rhythm section of former Odds’ members Doug Elliot, and Pat Steward. Stevie Ray Vaughan protégé Colin James also appears on the album, and laces the concoction with addicting turns at Dobro and mandolin, while guest keyboardist Simon Kendall adds a sometimes bouncy, sometimes subdued organ worthy of any song the Attractions recorded. As interesting as this look back at the sounds of the eighties is, Kendall’s keyboards along with Northey’s soulful rhythms reminds me a bit of the more exalted work of Booker T and the MG’s.
So at its heart, Star 7 really is a latter day rock roots project that pays respect to the progenitors of the clean, bluesy rock, which Northey and Valenzuela excelled at in their heyday and still execute well today. Considering the number of bands out there pledging allegiance to different ‘80s-oriented genres, Star 7 is a stripped down tribute to the musicians who put the roll back into rock after psychedelia and new wave abandoned it.
Stand out performances can be heard on “See through Heart” and “Hurting on the Outside.” Northey challenges with minor keys and introspective lyrics on a beautifully soulful cover of Colin James’ “Something Good,” and continues to stun with “Let It Go.” They’re funky “Halfway to Happy” sounds like a kissing cousin to John Hiatt’s “Riding with the King.” And they can rock, churning up “Slow Goodbye” and exhuming the 70s-era Ron Wood on the fiery “Borrowing Trouble.”
And if you are an Odds fan, you’ll have a big smile on your face with the cover of “Not A Lot Goin’ On”, which sounds like a great lost outtake. Star 7 offers everything from intelligent lyrics to incomparable counterpoint background vocals, especially those offered by former Rembrandt member Danny Wilde on “Bulletproof Jacket” and “She Belongs.”
So if you want a taste of musical soul food, put Northey Valenzuela’s Star 7 on for a spin. It will fill you up with joyous aural sustenance.