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The Toby Gribben Show

Billy Valentine

Season 2023, Ep. 28

On 24 March, a collaboration between Acid Jazz Records and the Flying Dutchman label sees the release of veteran soul singer Billy Valentine’s new album. The first album of new music on the iconic jazz label since 1976.

 

Billy Valentine & The Universal Truth features testifying renditions of eight message songs, with Valentine’s emphatic, lissome voice drawing upon the soul-jazz legacy of such Flying Dutchman singer and songwriters as Gil Scot-Heron and Leon Thomas. In addition to songs by these two extraordinary talents, the album also features songs originally written and recorded by Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Kendricks, War, and Prince.

 

Billy Valentine may not be a household name but should be familiar to most from Simply Red’s 1983 Rendition of the Valentine Brothers’ ‘Money’s Too Tight (To Mention)’. Originally written and recorded by Billy and his brother John, the song was a protest against President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies. Around the time of performing with the Valentine Brothers, Billy’s recognition as a songwriter emerged after penning songs for other artists such as Will Jennings, Ray Charles, and the Neville Brothers.

 

After the demise of the Valentine Brothers, Billy struck up a songwriting partnership with Bob Thiele, Jr. (son of Flying Dutchman Records’ founder, Bob Thiele), which led to him singing demos for Warner Chappell songwriters, such as Gerry Goffin, Mark Isham, Burt Bacharach, and Hal David. Singing demos opened doors for Valentine to work in television and movies. His vocals can be heard in such works as: the 1991 classic movie, The Five Heartbeats, and songs produced for TV series including Boston Legal and, with Thiele, Jr., on music composed for the television show, Sons of Anarchy.

 

Now, after several decades spent working together, Valentine and long-time collaborator Thiele Jr. present Billy Valentine & The Universal Truth. Produced by Thiele Jr., the album recording began at Hollywood’s legendary East-West Studios (Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Elvis Presley’s ‘68 Comeback Special, Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On and Michael Jackson’s Thriller) right before the coronavirus pandemic. As the album session proceeded, the world erupted in protest after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, adding to the poignancy of the recordings with the songs taking on a new urgency.

 

Having always been drawn to message songs – Valentine remembers witnessing the civil rights protests through the Deep South in the United States, the Kent State University shootings in 1970, and the Vietnam War and its devastating aftermath on many military veterans returning to civilian life – the album’s selection of songs’ specific topics and themes speak to modern times. In particular, the rise of the Black Lives Matter after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who murdered Trayvon Martin; the polarizing presidency of Donald Trump, which ended with the violent uprising at the Capitol Building; and the rise in gun violence amidst economic and social disparities, all made more apparent during the height of the pandemic. 

 

Opening with a plaintive makeover of Curtis Mayfield’s 1970s ‘We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue’, a sobering ballad about projecting racial pride and Black humanity in the face of insurmountable odds, the theme continues on Valentine’s righteous rendition of Eddie Kendricks’ 1972 Black Power anthem, ‘My People Hold On’.

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