There is a real difference between paying tribute to the rich sounds which have gone before and merely plagiarising them. It is easy to steal, it is much harder to create. Desi Valentine is most certainly a creator. The difference is that whilst the musical building blocks may sound familiar, what he builds with them is new, original and refreshingly modern. Yes, it isn’t hard to imagine what his record collection might look like, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters and a host of other such icons would feature on heavy rotation no doubt, but Shades of Love is more about what such artists might sound like if they were starting out today. The sound of the old tempered with the new, the sound of raw sonic passions captured by modern studio techniques and perhaps the sound of it all put together by someone from an ocean away weaving all of this magic together.
The range of the album can be summed up by listening to just two tracks, though the more time you spend here the more you realise just how damn clever it all is. At one extreme Chasing Blue dances like Cab Calloway leading a New Orlean’s jazz band, at the other, the title track is a modern ballad, slightly tipping its hat to the classic sound of soul but with both feet totally in the here and now.
Altar is another song which links soul music’s heyday to its modern revival, stark and subtle and the perfect vehicle to showcase the emotive and versatile nature of Valentine’s vocals. Now I See The Light is a wonderfully celebratory bluesy, gospel jaunt which meanders between almost a cappella deliveries and mass choirs, a song which is all about the voice as both a means of communication and an instrument too. Things end with the brooding Help Me Remember, an edgy blues piece with an unexpected dance groove built only from a kick drum and rhythmic hand claps.
It’s a great album, one which seeks inspiration from the past, exists in the present and looks to the future. And that’s how it’s done. Boom. Mic drop. Thank you and goodnight!