Val Starr & The Blues Rocket – Healing Kind of Blues
Sandwich Factory Records
California blues guitarist Val Starr’s sixth album comes from her Covid layoff, a labor of love and hard work. She wrote most of the music during the pandemic and she was especially in tune with her mortality and began to realize that time had not somehow magically stopped. She created her California blues in a bunch of styles and has a heavy dose of songs whose themes revolve around her realization. More on that in a moment…
Starr is an accomplished musician who wrote all the songs and handles the vocals and rhythm guitar on the album. Husband John Ellis plays bass and slide guitar. Lead guitarist Tim Brisson, drummer Paul Farman and harp player Frankie Munz round out the band. Various guests appear here and there. Todd Morgan makes his presence known on three tracks on organ, five tracks on keys and effects and even does some steel drum sounds on two of those, too. Danny Sandoval adds his sax to a couple of cuts, Horation Socarras adds congas to a pair pf tracks, Debra Power plays piano on two and Ilana Katz Katz plays fiddle on one. Starr produced the CD entirely on her own and she and the band spent most of 2021 laying down the tracks.
As I noted, maturation is a heavy topic on this album. Tracks 6, 7, 10, and 12 relate to the process of aging. “Age is Just A Number” begins the process; Starr is happy to to be alive with all that going on, and sings about how age really is just a number and that you’re only as old and you feel inside. The harp is really well done here. OBTW, Starr tells us weight is just a number we shouldn’t have to hide, so should forget about extra pounds we carry. The slide guitar here is cool, too, and the piano support works well.
The next song continues the harp and piano support and also continues the aging theme. “Pretty Girl Blues” bemoans, “Why do all the pretty girls always get their way?” Val stands up for herself and other experienced women and says she’s got just as much to say as they do. This tune has got a country flair to it, too. “We’re Not Getting Older” is the third song of the theme. Starr tells us we’re getting better, not older. Guitar and organ work her shine in support of Starr. The final track “Get Over It” concludes the album and aging theme. Barrelhouse piano and a driving beat move this one along. Starr tells us to get over what we look like and feeling blue and don’t sweat the small stuff. Her message is to enjoy the respect you’ve earned and success you’ve achieved. There is more fun harp and guitar here to enjoy, too.
So off to the rest of the album now; “”Ridin’ That Memphis High” opens the album with a distinct country flair. Starr tells us all the good things about Memphis in this shuffle with nice harp and guitar accompaniment and solo work. The next tracks is also a shuffle, “All About The Shuffle.” The tempo slows down here as Val and the band bounce around and you could probably two-step to the shuffle. There is more guitar and keyboard work to enjoy on this one, too. The next cut, “Slow Blues Grinder” is exactly that; slow and sultry with organ and guitar accompaniment to help set the mood. The big guitar soloing helps sell this one. Luckily, the title track tells us healing is available for us via the blues. Sandoval’s sax is vibrant and adds much to the cut with his playing and solo. Starr croons sexily and the congas, vocal overdubs and a little guitar here and there give this song depth.
So despite getting older, we’re getting healed, too.
“If You Ever Change Your Mind” is a country shuffle of sorts with piano and guitar setting that up. The sax brings us back more to the blues here, but the styles swap back and forth a bit. Another nice, slow blues is “Don’t Love ’Em” with a ringing guitar solo. “Outside Looking In” is a rocking number with some heavier guitar licks as Starr sings with emotion. “Blues Family” is a bouncy cut with some fiddle; percussion and steel drum effects to make it interesting in a Caribbean sort of way.
Starr’s self proclaimed California blues are intended to uplift and be enjoyed and they certainly are and can be. This is a fun album and Starr and company have done a fine job putting it together and delivering the goods.