Album Review – Keeley Valentino’s Self-Titled EP

Keeley Valentino takes her time with musical releases. That’s not a complaint, but a fact. Her first album was released in 2005 and her second in 2009. And now, here in the fall of 2014, we have her third release of music with a self-titled EP.  Keeley told The Boot that she was confident in her work to fund the project herself instead of reaching out to fans through crowd funding sites like Kickstarter. The result of that soaring confidence is a carefully crafted, well-produced six-song project steeped with a great performance from this skilled singer-songwriter. Comparing this EP to her first two albums, Keeley Valentino is delivering music at the next level thanks to the production quality that producer Matt Mangano brings to the table. A producer and now bassist for the Zac Brown Band, Mangano’s musical prowess is nothing but a valuable addition to team Valentino.

The EP opens with the fun, upbeat love song “Everything In Between”. Story-wise, the song is about falling in love and the development of that love. The love Keeley sings about is strong and full of hope. This song is undeniably pop and friendly to the ear, but Keeley makes the simple song structure work. She’s a gifted songwriter and sells the story of this young love. The EP’s lead single, “Little Things,” comes next and is one of the strongest tracks on this project. The instrumentation starts off with a simple acoustic guitar and builds with each stanza, coming to a roaring conclusion along side a gospel chorus harmonizing behind Keeley’s vocals. A song about dreaming big without losing sight of the present, Keeley delivers this message with strength and authentic passion. The most country song of the six is “Signs for Bakersfield.” Featuring mandolins and steel guitars, this song is about Keeley fearing a return to California. She details how this is place where dreams are nothing but dust and bad memories, and how the signs for Bakersfield are the triggers for those memories. This song features some great writing and descriptions of California (“Far away from any beach, even out of the Angels’ reach, goodbyes get swallowed up in this Valley”).

In the second half of the EP, Keeley steps away from first person story telling beginning with “Love Will Come Around Again.” The keys of the piano and organ drive this track about getting over a break up. Keeley relates her own experiences to a girl who’s just been broken-hearted, advising her to not be distraught because love will return. “Burned” is, in my opinion, the best track on this EP. Firstly, the production of the song stands out because it begins with echoing notes and a distant drum beat that move together with subtle guitars and pianos. On the surface, maybe at a first listen, the production appears simple and stripped back, but it’s complex, perfectly layered and haunting. Lyrically, the song is a look at a relationship that fell apart and how the couple attempts to move on their own. The relationship was strong enough and its end was terrible enough to leave them both forever burned and scarred. Keeley Valentino writes some powerfully heart-breaking lyrics like “Starting over is as hard as it seems, we’re always haunted by broken dreams”; and “she still checks for monsters all alone in the dark, now just to be safe she checks under her heart.” Perhaps the most impressive part of the whole song is the fact that Keeley hits such a high note in the choruses. Her high-notes combined with the echoing instrumentation create a sort of haunting emptiness that captures the emotions of the song’s characters. I applaud Keeley, Matt and the entire crew credited on this track for an excellent song in “Burned.” The EP rounds out with “Underneath;” another song where Keeley motivates others to move on from a past that didn’t work. She inspires us to face our demons and find out who we are underneath and inside. Another song that builds as it progresses, “Underneath” is a strong conclusion with a passionate performance from Keeley.

My only complaint is that this isn’t an album of 10 or 12 songs. However, delivering a completely solid EP without filler tracks is better than an LP with a filler song or two. These six songs are nothing short of great, and certainly worth the wait that Keeley Valentino fans undoubtedly had for her next project. I stated in my first post for Country Perspective that Keeley Valentino had the potential to be a female leader in country music. I still stand by that statement after this EP release, whether you call her pop, folk, Americana, or country. Great country music, in my opinion, features great songwriting and honest storytelling. In spite of the pop elements infused in some of these songs, Keeley’s ability to tie lines together with a great rhyme and describe situations with perfect visualization prove her worthiness alongside country’s best songwriters. Sonically, this EP brings a pure, fresh sound under Matt Mangano and (as if I haven’t mentioned it enough yet), Keeley Valentino is a hell of a singer.

Grade: 10/10