by Bob Mehr
The solo debut from Gin Blossoms guitarist/songwriter Jesse Valenzuela will come as something of a surprise to those still trying get incessantly hummable hits like “Til I Hear It From You” and Follow You Down” out of their heads.
Recorded in Los Angeles and Memphis with a talented cadre of session pros — whose credits include Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and Al Green — Valenzuela has fashioned a record that strays from the shimmery FM jangle of his former group, instead aiming for the careful craftsmanship of early Marshall Crenshaw or the easy elegance of latter-day Nick Lowe.
While the production on the cheekily titled Tunes Young People Will Enjoy is a bit too polished at times, Valenzuela compensates with a healthy dose of Southwestern charm on tracks such as the slow-glowing “Lucky Stars” and the swaying cantina croon of “Broken Hearted Kind” (co-written with Eagles collaborator J.D. Souther).
Elsewhere, funky Latin-flecked workouts like “Andale Pues” and the choogling juke-joint groover “Company” — a loving homage to Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekends” — showcase a far rootsier muse than anything found in the Blossoms’ back catalog. Still, Valenzuela proves he hasn’t lost his gift for penning memorable hooks as the radio-ready balladry of “Looking For You” and the tightly wound dynamics of “Can’t Go Down” offer more than a faint echo of past glories.
A somewhat guarded lyricist, Valenzuela’s narratives shine brightest when he strips away the layers of polite reserve, as on the somber, twisting “Bulletproof Jacket” and the tortured confessional “Someone Else.”
On this first solo effort it’s clear Valenzuela’s is in the thick of his stylistic development; the record frequently finds him juggling a passion for blues-based grooves, power-pop heroics and writerly touches all at once. Although at times Valenzuela’s reach extends beyond his grasp, Tunes Young People Will Enjoy proves a more than promising start.
E-mail Bob Mehr at email@example.com.