Growing up in public

Ricky Valente’s compelling new Loveless Letters
By BOB GULLA  |  August 22, 2006

My, how you’ve grown! Or so one could say to Ricky Valente, former wiz kid, who has since transformed himself into a legitimate and gifted songwriter. Not so long ago — OK, eight years ago — Ricky was making a name for himself as a Mini-Me version of Stevie Ray Vaughan/Jimi Hendrix, cranking out excited-teenager renditions of blues-rock standards. On his 2002 recording Consolation, Ricky attempted to distance himself from his early roots by writing more straight rock and pop, with mostly distinguished results. Now, four years later, he returns with Loveless Letters, a new set of tunes different again from the music he used to make, and virtually unrecognizable from the ebullient expression of his days gone by. Today, shredding is the furthest thing from his mind, and as far as Ricky’s concerned, that’s good.

“When I was 16 or 17 that process was really important, and the guitar was important to me as I matured,” says Valente, now back in Rhode Island after spending time in London and New York City. “When I recorded Consolation I was 20. Now I care more about the song. I’d rather have a great, three-minute song with no guitar than a seven-minute guitar-rock odyssey.”

Rest assured, Valente has not hung up his axe — he’s just relegated it to the support act slot. “I’m still married to my guitar and very guitar-based,” he admits, “but I wasn’t gonna be a covers guitar player for my whole life. As an artist, you have to be allowed to change. You’re changing every day as a person, let alone as an artist. As a painter, you don’t want to paint in the same style your whole life.”

Recorded at Longview Farms (Aerosmith, Brand New, Rolling Stones, etc.) in western Massachusetts, Loveless Letters finds Valente painting in very different hues these days, with the help of drummer Mike Levesque and bassist Mark Zuppe. Songs such as “Borderline” and “Shadow On the Wall” — with placid passages side by side blustery, propulsive ones — depict the kind of Technicolor artist Valente has become.

“I guess the record has a kind of dual personality,” he says, “and it’s sort of the person I am these days. ‘Shadow On the Wall’ was originally one song leading into another with two distinct parts, but they were so different that I had to split them into two separate pieces.”

“Borderline” is another example of that schism. The tune, the disc’s highlight, begins with a sweet, moody pop vibe, before deconstructing violently about halfway through. It’s good stuff on both ends, each reflecting four years of Valente’s growth and his here-and-now disposition. “By the Sea” has the kind of escalating surge of power favored by Led Zeppelin, one of Valente’s idols.

The songwriter attributes his new range to a variety of factors, the chief one being his fairly recent travels. “I had to get off the circuit here,” he says, “so I went to London for four months to do a kind of self-promoted solo tour.” While in England, he scored a residency at a local Earl’s Court pub, playing originals and whatever else he could think of. The experience was critical on many levels. “I got to meet a lot of great people,” he says, “and also figure things out musically. When you’re doing solo shows you’re kind of relying on yourself to entertain, so I tried a lot of new things, experimenting with my voice and instrument together.”

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