I’m the sort of Dawes fan that considers “When My Time Comes” an absolute essential for a successful Dawes concert. The major-key romp is tied for “Little Bit of Everything” as my favorite tune in Dawes’ oeuvre, even though most of their work (and basically every bit of All Your Favorite Bands) sounds more like Laurel Canyon laid-back country. So it’s with great excitement that I’ve discovered A Valley Son‘s Sunset Park, which is six tracks of enthusiastic full-band alt-country with lots of American roots rock thrown in.
After a scene-setting instrumental intro, AVS kicks it in with the fuzzed-out guitar and blaring organ of “In the Low Light of the Late Afternoon.” “Low Light” is a song of youthful excess and bravado, matched in fervor by Trey Powell’s confident vocals. Powell’s low tenor is lithe and adaptable: he swings from observant to mocking to self-deprecating in rapid succession, selling each change with subtle intonations and careful delivery. He can also throw down a joyful chorus: the refrain here is one that I’ve been humming for days, as much for its enthusiasm as its melodic quality. Powell shows off his versatile vocals elsewhere in the more straight-ahead rock song “Lights in the Sky” (which we premiered) and the careening closing ballad “Shaken, Abrupt.”
The latter tune is a particularly valuable turn instrumentally as well; it shows off another side of the band after four midtempo rock songs. The band knows how to crank out the rock: they can turn out zinging lead guitar lines (“Dark Places”), chunky bass runs (“Sunset Park”), and mood-setting drums (“Lights in the Sky”) with ease. Most of this EP was recorded live, and it really shows. Instead of sounding clinically precise, the songs roll and lunge along in a satisfying way. The closing instrumental salvo of “Lights in the Sky” feels raw and organic, like a band having such a good time that they’re going to run it back some more. I can’t help but get behind a band like that.
But about “Shaken, Abrupt,” the color tune in a clutch of strong rockers: while it does have some guitar theatrics toward the end, this one relies less on the band and more on Powell’s vocals and electric rhythm guitar. Powell is up to the challenge, as he delivers a confident vocal line over a guitar performance that doesn’t get in the way. Powell’s howls here aren’t of the abrasive type that Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen) conjures up, but the two vocalists share a propensity to just go for it on a big, sweeping line. That quality gives this and all the rest of the tunes a distinct character which points towards good things for the band.
A Valley Son’s debut EP establishes them as a band to watch. Between the distinctive, versatile vocals and the enthusiastic alt-country/roots rock instrumentation, AVS has a lot of pieces that can translate easily onto bigger and brighter stages. At the moment, they’ve created six tunes that are satisfying in a variety of ways. Sunset Park drops today. You can check the band out in New York over the next few weeks:
August 10th, Sofar Sounds NYC
August 13th, Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY (Album Release)
August 26th, Rockwood Music Hall, NY, NY