Reissued in mono, Dino Valenti's solo album is a heady mix of sparse melodic guitar and his idiosyncratic cocksure crooning, both benefiting from brilliant production that balances ego and echo.
Chester Powers‚Äîaka Dino Valenti‚Äîgrew up in carnivals before he played in the Greenwich Village folk scene of Karen Dalton et al. His voice is as much an acquired taste as hers. At the extreme he does tip into bizarre caterwauling but mostly his powerful self-belief carries these tunes even during the meandering sections, even when his attempt to keep time seems loose and he appears to be making words up as he goes along. The skill of Bob Johnston's production lets Valenti's talent shine, even through the clouds of his massive ego. This benign approach apparently began before a note was recorded, with the notoriously difficult singer coaxed into a comfortable and indestructibly confident mood by a producer clever enough to spend the first two days in the studio just building and flying paper airplanes. At times Johnston bathes Valenti's voice in echo and makes his 12 string guitar shimmer quite gloriously. The music swirls around those two elements with only occasional strings and drums added, with the voice sweeping through sublime passages.
Here and there the pretty guitar breaks into a brash chop giving credence to the notion that Valenti influenced Ritchie Valens. He certainly did write a 1960s hit single synonymous with notions of West Coast personal freedom, but sold the rights to finance a court defense to get out of prison. His talent was such that Jack Nitzsche produced a whole album of his material‚Äîof which the shorter track, "Tomorrow," perhaps gives a tantalizing glimpse‚Äîthat Valenti subsequently scrapped for artistic reasons. It seems a slow commercial suicide was compounded by his alienation of record company executives, arrogance towards other musicians, and unprofessional attitude.
Nevertheless, tales of his appeal are legendary with fans queuing around several blocks at the hint of his presence and a large female entourage following him around. He died in 1994, this was his only solo record, and (depending on who you believe) his record company brought in a producer to fulfil a contract and get something, anything, out of Dino Valenti to subsequently bury and even release with his name misspelled. The songs "Time," "Listen to Me," and "Children of The Sun" are mesmerizing and unforgettable, weaving a strange power that rises above hippy lingo, simplistic idealism, images of beaches and stars, themes of morning, rebirth, and freedom, and even above Valenti's almost comically resolute testimony that the best, most perfect relationship must have him in it. Still, who cannot warm to a man of whom, according to his sister, Catherine, the US Air Force once wrote "Chester Powers is capable of doing anything he sets his mind to, however, he thinks that the whole United States Air Force should conform to his way of thinking."