Not too tight: casting his glance over the ocean, Californian artist ties loose ends to bring out hidden layers in well-known melodies.
Since The Fabs crossed the pond, there’s been an intense cross-pollination of American black music and rock from Blighty, and this singer – whose voice will be familiar to the “Sons Of Anarchy” and “Boston Legal” fans – knows it firsthand. As part of VALENTINE BROTHERS, Billy had a hit with “Money’s Too Tight (To Mention)” in the early ’80s which rocketed up the charts in 1985, once SIMPLY RED covered it, but returning the favor took him a few decades. Perhaps, such a feat was worth the wait, because the veteran’s choice of covers is truly surprising; more so, instead of reimagining the classics with a soul mindset, he stripped familiar pieces to their original rhythm-and-blues core and added mellifluous inflections where sharper angles previously showed up.
For the most part, beats are kept to a delicate minimum here, though, and Mick Hucknall should be delighted to hear “Holding Back The Years” in a silky, exhilarating reading, while “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” has become cobweb-light in Billy’s vision. Yet when the groove is king, there’s no limit to Valentine’s charm, what with “Beast Of Burden” blooming in a brass arrangement that has no skank in sight to swing harder than ever before. The only thing where a tempo shift is totally misplaced is a new take on “Watching The Wheels” whose funk emasculates the emotional message of Lennon’s original, unlike “More Than A Woman” – devoid of disco glitter and much more sensual as a result.
It may become too sweet as proved by “First Cut Is The Deepest” until its smooth tones reveal gritty underbelly, but channelling “Train In Vain” back to gospel is a gripping way to hit all the right buttons. Still, the transformation of “(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” into a spiritual romp feels the most satisfying cover on offer. Given these inroads, the album is more than a homage: it’s a labor of love – and, yes, understanding of musical progress from roots to branches.