The brilliance of Spampinato

Aside from the occasional guerrilla appearances of Dave “Bonez” Pintos, one of the cooler moments in local open-mic nights is when Sal Valentino shows up with his guitar.

Valentino, né Spampinato, the onetime frontman for 1960s band the Beau Brummels, San Francisco’s answer to the Beatles, and 1970s band Stoneground, often shows up at the Fox & Goose on Monday nights and the True Love Coffeehouse on Tuesday evenings, where he’ll sign up just like everyone else to land a spot to play. Typically, what he’ll sing is quite a bit darker than the sun-bleached Merseybeat sound of “Laugh, Laugh,” the Brummels’ biggest hit, with a finger-picked guitar style firmly rooted in country blues and murder-ballad folk music.

So it’s a real surprise to hear Every Now and Then, the album Valentino recorded last year with producer David Houston, which will be released February 12 by Dig Music, the label that issued the first three albums by singer-songwriter Jackie Greene. The project was long in the making—Valentino was one of the first locals to spot Greene’s talent when the latter turned up at the Fox & Goose open mic, and Greene was once rumored to be producing an album for Valentino.

“It’s a pop record, unlike what Sal tends to play at open mics,” Houston admitted during the album’s sessions last fall. And it is. The 10 songs exude the comfortably candle-lit warm fuzziness of Houston’s solo recordings, and a cover of “Laugh, Laugh” is a real standout—Valentino doesn’t try to hit the high notes on the chorus, and a lone violin reproduces the counterpoint that was a fat harmonica part on the original. Also, the tempo is less urgent, with Houston’s string section (cellist Alison Sharkey, violist Christina Maradik, violinists Reylynn Goessling and Abby Moniz) highlighting the tune’s inherent pathos. This version of the song, penned by Valentino’s erstwhile bandmate Ron Elliott, comes across as more honest and winning, and I like it even better than the original, which itself is a pop-music classic.

The album’s nine other songs were mostly the work of local songwriters. Greene wrote the title cut; Houston penned the opener “Tell Me What the World Needs” and co-wrote “Kiss Away” with Valentino; Caron Vikre, Charlie Peacock and Kevin Seconds landed tracks, too. Seconds’ “I Love You, I Do,” which has a Harry Nilsson vibe, is particularly sweet. Of the two non-locally penned songs, one is from Phil Everly and the other is a Carl Wilson/Geoffrey Cushing-Murray collaboration that originally appeared on the Beach Boys’ M.I.U. Album.

Valentino wrote the closer, “Every Blue Day,” a waltz that begins with Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube” and quotes “On Top of Old Smokey” on the bridge. It’s a fitting end to an altogether fine and satisfying record.

Valentino will celebrate the album’s release at the Palms in Winters on Saturday, February 16.

If you’re looking to hit the release party for a great local album a little sooner, on Saturday, January 19, at Old Ironsides, Knock Knock will celebrate Girls on the Run, its first-rate new CD. Also on the bill are Them Hills, Rademacher and Death to Anders.