Jesse Valenzuela: Classic Gin Blossoms Sound

After the Gin Blossoms split in 1997, one of the new projects to emerge was Jesse Valenzuela’s solo album. Valenzuela, the Blossoms’ guitarist and vocalist, keeps to the sound that made his former group successful.

Tunes Young People Will Enjoy is a pretty truthful title for the album. Full of love, loss, malaise and optimism, the disc is much more of a return to the jangly, hook-laden Gin Blossoms sound than singer Robin Wilson’s Gas Giants.

A few extra touches prove it’s not just Valenzuela trying to sound like the Blossoms, though. Honky-tonk piano and organ are mixed in with the electric and acoustic guitars and driving, if conventional, drums.

“Spark,” the opening track, is an excellent show of Valenzuela’s talent. While he was always a skilled guitarist and mandolinist with the Gin Blossoms, not to mention a great vocalist, he kicks off his solo project with power and ability.

With a mournful organ behind sparse guitars, light percussion and Valenzuela’s vocals, “Damaged Goods” is a poignant track: “We’re just a matched pair/of damaged goods/we’re no good to anyone/we took the long way/to come up short.”

“Bulletproof Jacket” is a cool, loungy tune with strong lyrics.Its walking bassline and organ (clearly a Valenzuela trademark) complement the smooth vocal work.

A listener could be forgiven for hearing “Broken Hearted Kind” and wondering if it’s an Elvis cover. With its sweet pedal steel guitar, the album’s country influence reaches its peak in a surprisingly pleasant ditty, though not without a dash of sadness. “You’re the broken hearted kind/bound to lose everything you find.”

After such a sweet, tranquil song, what better way to finish the album than with a roar? Well, it’s not quite thrash metal, but “Someone Else” is a furious track for Valenzuela. The charming honky-tonk piano is long gone in this piece, replaced by grinding guitar and Jesse’s screams of “I wish I was someone else!”

Pop and rock fans with a little country running through their veins (probably a fair description for much of the Gin Blossoms fanbase) shouldn’t hesitate in picking this disc up; there is simply nothing disappointing about the performance or craftsmanship demonstrated on TYPWE’s eleven tracks.

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