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Serious ear candy

L.A. quartet Valley Queen find the warmth of '70s rock

Tapping into the Laurel Canyon sound. Photo credit:

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In my mid-teenage years, I picked up my first vinyl album from the discount bin at Rocket Records. It was a weather-worn copy of Harry Nilsson's underrated Son of Schmilsson, the tongue-in-cheek quasi-sequel to his breakthrough Nilsson Schmilsson, and it was filled with tossed-off goofs ("I'd Rather Be Dead"), surging anthems ("You're Breaking My Heart," "Spaceman"), and achingly beautiful numbers (my favorite being "The Lottery Song"). I didn't then, and still don't, have much of an opinion on the vinyl versus digital debate regarding the relative "warmth" inherent in vinyl - plus, I like all of the pops and crackles that serious collectors tend to avoid - but that record proved to be much more valuable than its one dollar sticker would indicate.

Still, when it comes to warmth, this ineffable you can detect in some music, I can say with some certainty that the height of its pervasiveness existed at the time of vinyl's dominance: the ‘70s. Moreover, the bands and artists who were able to most effectively tap into this quality were those in the folk, Southern rock, and R&B genres. Listening to the Allman Brothers or Carole King or The Band can feel like getting a big hug from your speakers. These people weren't using the wall of sound to achieve this encompassing feeling, but rather tapping into it through an intangible intimacy and musicality; their earnestness and talent made those records positively glow.

L.A. quartet Valley Queen has a way about them when it comes to dredging up that warmth. Led by Arkansas native Natalie Carol's effortless voice and naked songwriting, Valley Queen captures that so-called Laurel Canyon sound, with all of the bright expansiveness that implies. And while the ‘70s are invoked by Valley Queen, this is no mere nostalgia-bait. Like Natalie Prass and her eye-opening self-titled debut from last year, Valley Queen is more about tapping into that era's tunefulness and creating some seriously velvety ear-candy.

Along with Neil Wogensen on bass, Shawn Morones on lead guitar, and Gerry Doot on drums, Carol creates a clean, lush bed for her lyrics, which walk the line between playfulness and piercing sincerity. "Puritan" does a notably good job of this, with its surprisingly frank sexuality and its paean to how invigorating and challenging it can be to give your love to someone else. It's a tender, forthcoming number, and by the mid-point of the song you can almost feel the butterflies in the narrator's stomach.

"Carnival," with its Spaghetti Western guitars and pounding drums, is a much livelier song, centering on the weirdos and creatives who populate the music community in L.A. Carol's voice skips lightly over the thrum of the track like a stone over the surface of a lake. While there's an innate loveliness to Carol's vocals, there's plenty of character, like a slight sibilance that recalls Dolly Parton's distinctive singing style. Carol's voice particularly shines on "Who Ever Said," which is the kind of song that would've made Carol a teen idol if she had performed it on The Midnight Special.

There's a jubilance to the performances of Valley Queen, a sense of comfort on stage that allows the musicians to get swept away by their own music in a contagious way. Fittingly, their Tacoma show at Real Art will find them joined by some of the more reliably fun live bands around in Wheelies and the Purrs. It's also quite fitting that Tacoma's favorite record label, Swoon, has recently opened a storefront in the same building as Real Art, selling vinyl records, among other things. Listen to Valley Queen, pick up some Swoon records, and find that warmth in the wintertime.

REAL ART TACOMA, All Ages, w/ Wheelies, the Purrs, the Pro-nouns, Saturday, Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m., $8, 5412 S. Tacoma Way,

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