Dino Valente (né Chet Powers) is one of those enigmatic types in the footnotes of every third MOJO article dealing with the 60s, and it is plain that he had his fingers in a lot of pies both literally, and figuratively. However, to paraphrase Wayne Kramer’s description of Johnny Thunders in Legs McNeil’s “Please Kill Me,” he “…seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” He wrote “Get Together,” popularized by The Youngbloods and played in every 60s TV/movie flashback scene, but he didn’t make a dime off of it because he sold the rights off to the Kingston Trio’s managers to beat a drug rap; he also had a hand in writing “Hey Joe,” somehow. He was going to be the focal point of Quicksilver Messenger Service, but he went to prison instead. He managed to piss off the CBS brass after signing a lucrative contract by phoning them repeatedly at 4 A.M. and telling them that they didn’t get where he was at.
The main show here, however, is not the man’s life story, but his solo release. His nasal voice, hippie dream poeticisms, and backing jazz instrumentation seems to drop in and out at will. Think Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks meets Tim Buckley’s Happy/Sad with the overtones of a Haight-Asbury hippie dude trying to put the make on a girl, and you’re getting close. Fred Neil is another obvious influence in terms of his 12-string and jazz inflected chording, and it’s no surprise that the both used to play together in Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 60s. Nevertheless, it’s a rewarding listen, especially in the context of the loner folk and DIY-ethic that predominates popular reissues from such labels as Numero Group, whose Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes compilation serves as another touchstone.
Opener “Time” does not make any concessions for the commercially-minded. Bob Johnston, Bob Dylan’s producer, lends a sympathetic ear, and embellishes Dino’s 12-string and vocal with harps, marching snares, harpsichords, and liberal uses of echo, taking the listener immediately into an otherworldly and sonically textural realm. “My Friend” continues this trend, adding a horn section and piano to further color the increasingly-climatic nature of the song, whose hallucinatory lyrics recall Donovan at his most abstract. This accompaniment is not uniform however, as a good half of the album is just Dino and his 12-string, alongside his swooping vocalizations. One of these solo showcases is an forceful cover of “Me And My Uncle,” popularized by the Dead, written by John Phillips (!), but done in a simply amazing rendition by Dino. “Children of the Sun” continues onward starkly, admonishing his peers to “stop, (and) take a look around” while the song ebbs and flows like the uncertainty that this album presents.
The good people at Tompkins Square have just reissued this album, in mono no less, and it’s given me an opportunity to reacquaint myself with its dream-like quality and stream of consciousness melodicism. Fans of Tim Buckley, Fred Neil, Skip Spence, and David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name will find a lot to like, and even love. Heavy indeed.
Purchase the LP from Tompkins Square.
∆ Words by David Sampson