Up and Rumbling

After five years of fits and starts, Gin Blossoms songwriter/guitarist Jesse Valenzuela finally launches a solo career

Still, when he lowers his guard, as on the album-closing "Someone Else" -- a crackling slice of distressed self-examination -- Valenzuela's work shines with a soul-baring intensity.

A significantly improved singer, Valenzuela seems to take his vocal cues from power-pop supremos Dwight Twilley and Tommy Keene (the latter of whom guests on the album). Valenzuela's tight phrasing and warm midrange -- on tracks such as "Lucky Stars" and "Looking for You" in particular -- showcase a far more confident crooner than the one featured on the occasional Blossoms side.

Despite positive reaction to the album -- Valenzuela had offers from several labels before deciding to release the disc on his own Gabriel Records imprint -- the singer's aims for the project are modest.

Jesse Valenzuela: Gracefully sidestepping his imposing history with Tunes Young People Will Enjoy.
Jesse Valenzuela: Gracefully sidestepping his imposing history with Tunes Young People Will Enjoy.

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Scheduled to perform on Thursday, March 28, with The Pistoleros. Showtime is 8 p.m.
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"I don't really see it as being the start of a huge solo career," he admits. "I write songs, and if I can go play a few cities, I'll do that, but in the end, making an album and recording is all just a part of what I'm doing as a musician."


Upon purchasing Tunes Young People Will Enjoy, most people will be shocked to find the album comes affixed with a prominently placed warning sticker. It's not the standard RIAA admonition about explicit content, but rather a cheeky caveat that reads: "Warning! This Album Contains Music From an Ex-Gin Blossom!"

Obviously, no conversation with Valenzuela can pass without discussing the 800-pound gorilla on his résumé. Even 15 years after the Blossoms' inception, the group remains arguably the biggest band to emerge from the Valley -- and certainly its longest-running musical soap opera.

Given an insider's perspective, it would seem the politics within the group are only slightly less complex and burdened by the weight of history than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Despite long-standing personal struggles, in the past few months the group seems to have changed its status from broken-up to semi-active, if not quite fully reunited. The band, which has played a handful of dates since the year began, has a number of regional shows planned as well as a national tour with Soul Asylum slated for the summer.

The Blossoms' catalogue has also been given a boost recently, as the band pressed a limited number of CD copies of its independent debut, 1989's Dusted. Valenzuela confirms that Universal Music is in the process of issuing a lavish 10th anniversary "Deluxe Edition" of New Miserable Experience -- a project that will be given the full remastering, repackaging and bonus disc treatment.

Inevitably, the flurry of activity has sparked talk that the band will write and record a third album, an idea that Valenzuela -- who admits a successful comeback in today's market would be a long shot -- is approaching cautiously.

Still, for those involved, it seems a tempting proposition. Few groups in the history of music can say they left more than a million records on the table, as the Blossoms did with their last album, the Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling Congratulations, I'm Sorry. ("We left on top, just like Jim Brown," jokes Valenzuela.)

Regardless of its motivations, the group's renewed work status has yielded a predictable outcry from some that the band members have grown desperate and are merely seeking to cash in.

"To make a living as a musician is a pretty difficult chore, and the task doesn't get any easier as you get older," offers Valenzuela. "There are some financial concerns that grown men have, and, since I'm not a trust-fund kid, I have to work. And if I make a living playing music, I don't know why that should upset anyone. But apparently, it does.

"However," he adds pointedly, "if money were the prime motivator, then we would've made another record already -- so it's obviously not. We don't make a fortune when we play a show, but we have fun and it's kind of nice to create that sound again. If we seriously had wanted to whore it up, we would've made a record by now. Because everybody's had enough hard knocks where it's been thought of, certainly. But if [a new album] is gonna happen, it has to take its own time, fester in its own way."

For now, though, Valenzuela's sights are set squarely on his solo endeavors, including this week's local CD release party, a string of showcase and songwriter circle appearances, and a clutch of Midwestern club dates with Icard. In between, he'll find time to produce albums for Valley luminaries The Pistoleros and Mark Norman before the Blossoms begin their summer road swing.

As he flips through a date book that's filled through the end of the year, Valenzuela offers perhaps the best and most succinct assessment of his continuing career.

"In this business," he says with a knowing smile, "you have to keep plugging away."

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