Few songwriters look to communicate more than Bobby Jo Valentine. This drive to share his innermost thoughts with the world has led to his music appearing on radio, television, and film. He has accepted invitations to appear at a number of festivals – among them, The Wild Goose Festival, the national Gay Christian Network conference, the Kinship Festival, the international 2016 Emerge conference, and the 2016 UCC Gathering in Southern California. He’s a California resident and has two critically acclaimed albums in his discography. The latest addition to his oeuvre Fox Eyes, Whale Heart is a 12 song set that underscores the strengths of his first two albums while building off of and expanding their quality. Despite the indie nature of the recording, the production is completely professional and presents Valentine in the best possible light.
“Carry Me Away” has tremendous pop uplift further emphasized by horns and melodic piano lines laced beneath the guitars and Valentine’s vocal. This sort of seemingly effortless, uplifting pop songwriting is a gift – particularly when it relies on the eternal verities of songwriting. There’s a comprehensible structure here that makes sense, catchy melodies that resolve themselves in satisfying ways, and a perfect sense of when the song should end. “Bones” takes a softer approach. It’s a slower, more nuanced song more reliant on basic instrumentation and creating a delicate mood. Moreover, this is a much more introspective tune and Valentine’s voice captures that quality while still singing openly and without inhibition. “Haunted House” shows off Valentine’s considerable gifts for metaphor, but his musical imagination deserves to share top billing. The physical tempo grabs you and the bubbling horn section brings more oomph to an already invigorating song.
The title song expands on Valentine’s talent for metaphor in a big way. His use of literary devices in the writing and the marriage of music and words are working at a higher level here than elsewhere on the album, but it’s his voice that brings it to vivid life. “Lion in Summer” has breezy pop charm despite its relatively innocuous accompaniment. Valentine whips out a tune in waltz time with “Good Clothes” and it’s another sharp lyric with appealing cleverness and telling concrete imagery that helps establish character. The brass returns to add icing on top of this tasty slice of cake. The vocal harmonies and mandolin opening “Only Beloved” herald another delicate pop gem, but the sensitivity and beauty is slightly undercut with repetition. There are a lot of quiet moments in the album’s penultimate song, “Sing Along”, and it aids in weaving a fragile mood of reflection with the audience. Valentine’s musical imagination is outstanding, but it’s really his lyrics and singing that carry the day on this album and “Sing Along” is no exception.
This is a stunning third album from one of pop music’s truly gifted under-the-radar talents. It’s unlikely that he’ll be flying under anyone’s radar much longer. Even in the breakneck pace of modern life, Bobby Jo Valentine’s songs have enough weight and entertainment value to cut through the clutter and touch lives. Fox Eyes, Whale Heart is well worth the money and time.