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Archives: 2009 Review of Jeff Larson's Heart of the Valley

The following review was written by Steve Lowry on September 12, 2009.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Jeff Larson's latest release, "Heart of the Valley", which will officially come out on September 22, 2009. Most of you have heard the soundclips that Jeff has posted on his web site so you have an idea of how great this album really is. Here's some technical information about the new album along with my thoughts and impressions on each track.

"Heart of the Valley" was produced, engineered, arranged, and recorded by Gerry Beckley except where noted below. It was recorded at Human Nature Studio in Sherman Oaks, California with some additional recording by Jeff at Red Bell Studio in Fremont, California and by Hank Linderman at Parsons Green Studio in Culver City, California. Hank and Matt Beckley also did some additional engineering. The album was mastered by Hank.

Jeff sings lead vocals and plays the Wurlitzer piano throughout the album while Gerry sings backing vocals and plays the following instruments: acoustic guitars, lead and rhythm electric guitars, piano, organ, various keyboards, accordion, Oahu lap steel guitar, bass, percussion, and programming.

Heart Of The Valley (Beckley): The opening track, which the album takes its name from, is an excellent way to start. It's an easy listening song that begins with a nice acoustic guitar and then builds up from there with background harmonies that complete the mix. The song does a great job of painting a picture of the valley. Dave Raven plays drums and the outro vocal features Jeff Foskett which is based on an 1800's traditional Welsh lullaby, Suo Gan.

Sudden Soldier (Beckley): This is one of my favorite songs on the album with Jeff and Gerry sharing lead vocals. It was co-produced by Matt Beckley with Dave Raven on drums. At first I thought it was a military song but the more I listened to the lyrics the more I was convinced that's not the case.

Airport Smiles (Larson): At 1:07 this is the shortest track on the album and the only one that wasn't written by Gerry. The airport noise at the beginning of the track was a field recording that Jeff made in the baggage claim area of the St. Louis airport. This is another song that paints a picture, but this one does it quickly and is obviously written by someone who has spent many hours obvserving others who were also waiting to catch their planes.

Minus Marci (Beckley-Larson): This up tempo song is the first collaboration on the album between Gerry and Jeff. I could easily see this being released as a single on the radio. It seems to tell a story of a relationship with Marci that didn't quite work out although I never heard the title mentioned in the song. Hank Linderman plays the baritone guitar and Dave Raven plays drums.

Calling (Beckley): I think this song qualifies as another one of Gerry's great ballads. It's about a guy who is missing his lover and is calling to have her back. Nick Lane plays trombone and euphonium, Ryland Steen plays drums, and Larry Treadwell plays acoustic guitar.

One Way Ticket (Beckley): Co-produced by Matt Beckley this track is lively and grabs you from the very start. It qualifies as another one of my favorite songs on the album. Jeff Jarboe plays drums. As the song says, "there's a lot of love still to go".

Five Mile Road (Beckley): As this song begins it reminds me of "Secret Garden" from the Jerry Maguire soundtrack. But it has its own story to tell about a road which seems to represent a person's life and the people who travel with him on the road (especially one girl who keeps getting lost in the crowd). Featuring Rusty Young on steel guitar this track has a hauntingly catchy melody. Dave Raven plays drums.

Southern Girl (Beckley): Featuring Dewey Bunnell on backing vocals and Rich Campbell on recorder, you can almost envision this song being performed at an America concert. The song is true to its title, telling about a fellow who wants a southern girl to be his own. With nice harmonies and a tune that's easy to get into, this is a fun song to enjoy. Dave Raven plays drums.

Two People At Once (Beckley): Hank Linderman does a great job playing the ebow on this song that talks about people who try to live two opposing lives at the same time. The more I listen to this song the more I like it. The harmonies in the chorus and the words seem to dig deep into the soul.

Wishing Well (Beckley): Hank Linderman adds his acoustic guitar to this wishful melody about dreams that we all have. I love the production of this song that is full of harmonies and a bridge that starts simple and builds to a fulfilling climax. Jeff Jarboe plays drums on this track that was engineered by John Denison of Louisville, Kentucky.

One Lit Window (Beckley-Larson): The final track is another collaboration by Gerry and Jeff. Nick Lane plays the euphonium in another ballad about a person wondering about how things used to be.

Overall this is a great album that is filled with one good song after another. It's nice to NOT have to push the next button on my player. If you're a Jeff Larson, Gerry Beckley, or America fan then this is a MUST HAVE album. If you just like good music, then I highly recommend it.

Steve Lowry

Last Revised: 13 September 2009