Signs and wonders

“You need a few shooting lessons, Mrs. Malone.”

Right. And when Nomi Malone, the central character from director Paul Verhoeven’s sucktacular 1995 film Showgirls, turns up wearing a pixie hairdo and arched eyebrows in a certain daily comic strip that shall not be mentioned, you just know a few conspiracy-minded folks might interpret that surprising appearance as another harbinger of a coming apocalypse.

Yes, dark portents can be found everywhere these days. But moments of sheer, unexpected magic can be experienced, too. One of the latter occurred last Saturday night at the Palms in Winters, when Sal Valentino played to a packed house to mark the release of his new Dig Music CD, Every Now and Then.

Here’s the deal: While there are plenty of people making music worth writing about who are well under the drinking age, you don’t expect to see a retirement-age guy get up and deliver the goods. Valentino may be 65, and I’ve heard him sing plenty of times over the years, but Saturday night he was in fine—nay, absolutely stellar—voice. He planted his feet under the Palms’ proscenium arch, surrounded by a band and string section, and proceeded to confidently inhabit the songs from his new album, utterly comfortable in his own skin and anchored in the moment.

His band featured quite a few familiar players: David Houston, who produced Every Now and Then, played a big hollow-body Gretsch electric guitar; he was joined by bassist Larry Tagg, drummer Mark Harrod and a string quartet consisting of violinists Reylynn Goessling and Abby Moniz, violist Christina Maradik and cellist Alison Sharkey. On a couple of songs, Valentino paired up with singer Allyson Seconds for duets.

The beauty of Valentino’s record is that it sounds fresh rather than embalmed—a feat not many other “heritage” artists can claim. Live, the record’s songs by Houston, Kevin Seconds, Valentino and others were fleshed out and animated by Valentino and band, with “Laugh, Laugh” and the second encore “Just a Little”—both 1960s hits for Valentino’s band the Beau Brummels—being special highlights.

Opening the show was Walking Spanish, a trio for most of its set. The band’s Telecaster-wielding frontman, Alex Nelson, happens to be the younger brother of Jackie Greene, who wrote the title track to Valentino’s album. Nelson’s good but he still needs some seasoning; a couple of the songs—one ballad in particular—were quite moving, while a few others gave the impression that their pedestrian early-’70s sound might fare better after six months of road testing. Nelson, bassist Timmy Picchi and drummer Craig Stoller were joined by a rhythm guitarist on the set closer, a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out,” on which Nelson was able to stretch out on slide guitar. Like his older sibling, Nelson mines a musical lode decidedly older than his years. Listen to it at

The next day, Valentino played an in-store at R5 Records, with Houston and his string section (Goessling, Maradik and Sharkey). Like the Palms show, the crowd at R5 was a bit more, ahem, mature than you’ll find at most local venues. Not that you’d figure an army of skater teens might show up to hear an old master. But, in this case, they’d be missing out.