Wait A Second – What Was That?

Originally posted August 17, 2007

Back in the late 1990s, during those years when I haunted Cheapo’s vinyl room three or four times a week, there was always plenty of newly arrived material to look at. At a guess, I’d say that between 200 and 300 LPs made their way each day into the bins at the front of the room.

That’s not an immense amount of vinyl to flip through, even if you’re doing two or three days’ worth of bins during a visit. But it is enough records to keep the time-conscious flipper from taking a close look at each record. Of course, the vast majority of the records that were coming into a popular place like Cheapo’s were familiar, either things I already had at home or things that I was aware of and, for one reason or another, had already decided against acquiring. So closer looks weren’t necessary, most of the time.

Every once in a while, though – and I’m sure this has happened to every record digger at one time or another – you flip past an LP and go on for three or more records and then stop, thinking, “What was that?” So you go back and pull out the record that caught your attention. Sometimes, it’s not something you recognize at all. And after a few years of digging through albums, you know there’s a reason it caught your eye. So you set it aside and go on.

Today’s album was one of those. It was a late April Sunday in 1999, and I imagine that having nothing any better to do, I biked over to Cheapo’s to look at what was being saved for me behind the counter and see what had come in during the last day or two. And as I flipped through the new stuff, I paused and – as described above – went back a couple of records.

The record that caught my attention was pretty non-descript. It had a white cover with a black and white portrait of a young woman in the middle. She had shoulder-length hair – it looked like it might have been light brown – and her bangs were in her eyes. There was a dusting of freckles across her nose, and she was wearing a funky hat and an odd necklace. It said late 1970s post-hippie stuff to me. Across the top of the jacket, I read her name, Valerie Carter, and the album title, Just A Stone’s Throw Away. And I processed that in just a second or two, certainly far less time than it took to write about it.

What had caught my eye, besides the funky hat and the freckles? I didn’t know. I didn’t recall ever hearing about Valerie Carter. So I looked at the back and began to nod as I read the list of participating musicians: Linda Ronstadt, Deniece Williams, Maurice White and Lowell George among the background singers; and Lowell George, Jeff Porcaro, Bob Glaub, Tom Jans, John Sebastian, Jackson Browne and a few other recognizable names listed as musicians.

Well. Los Angeles-style singer-songwriter pop rock from – I looked at the bottom of the back – 1977. I had LPs by Ian Thomas and Tower of Power set aside to buy already. I shrugged and put Valerie Carter in the pile.

And it turned out to be not too bad a record, one that got good reviews in most places and now seems to be out of print and only available as an import CD. Don’t get me wrong – this is not a lost classic. But it’s pretty good.

It turns out, according to All-Music Guide, that Valerie Carter got to know Lowell George of Little Feat when she was a member of the country folk band Howdy Moon and George produced the group’s one album. George became her mentor and introduced her to the folks who would play on Just A Stone’s Throw Away, which was her debut. She released another album in 1979 and then released nothing more until the late 1990s, when she put out two more solo albums. According to AMG, she’d stayed in the industry in the intervening years doing session work, and her list of credits at her AMG page is, in fact, impressive.

So what to make of Just A Stone’s Throw Away? Well, like a lot of the records that were coming out of L.A. at the time, it can be a little too slick at moments. But it has other moments that are very nice, too. The album’s best track is the first one, Carter’s sweet take on “Ooh Child,” the song that was a 1970 hit for the Five Stairsteps. “Face of Appalachia” haunts with its banjo and its odd dissonant tones.

Further into the record, “So, So Happy” and “City Lights” sound like tracks from an Earth, Wind & Fire sessions, which – if you read the credits – is no surprise: both tracks were produced by Maurice White, EW&F’s drummer and leader. And the title track, “A Stone’s Throw Away,” has a nice gospelly feel, while “Cowboy Angel” flirts with country rock.

The rest is pretty standard late-1970s Southern California pop rock, except for the last track on the record. That track, “Back To Blue Some More,” doesn’t work. Carter does a fine job on the vocal – as she does throughout the entire album – but it’s not enough to save the track, which wanders around in a jazzy haze, kind of like a grocery shopper trying to find the beef jerky at three in the morning.

As I said, the album isn’t a lost classic, but it’s a pretty good listen, and Carter acquits herself well as she moves from genre to genre. I would guess that her other work is worth seeking out.

(The record had a few pops here and there. It seemed worth sharing here anyway.)

Track listing:
Ooh Child
Ringing Doorbell In The Rain
Face Of Appalachia
So, So Happy
A Stone’s Throw Away
Cowboy Angel
City Lights
Back To Blue Some More

Valerie Carter – Just A Stone’s Throw Away [1977]


One Response to “Wait A Second – What Was That?”

  1. Covered With Honey « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] several albums under her own name, one of which – 1977’s Just A Stone’s Throw Away – showed up in this blog’s first iteration. It was the names of the musicians who helped Carter on that album […]

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