Hitting a Peak

Your Life Asleep (Independent)

By Kevin Gibson

Heavy metal guys aren't supposed to be this sensitive, are they? What about the big hair and juvenile machismo?

OK, enough yanking at stereotypes. It's really more irony than anything that local boy Stephen McWhirter happened to be in a heavy metal band when he bought a $60 acoustic guitar and started to write the songs that Valley now presents. McWhirter's modern influences and ready-for-rock voice, on paper, seem like a strange fit for Americana music such as is found on Your Life Asleep. But this whole thing is vital, powerful. It works.

The title track is an achingly beautiful bluegrass/folk ballad that is absolutely irresistible. I dare you to try. Go on. "Keep both eyes on me/Never let your love go unseen/And don't burn down on me/Remember just how much this means/And don't run out on me."

If "More to Say" goes farther toward the modern than it needs to, then "Hide Your Self" brings it all back down to earth on an easy, mid-tempo smoker. And the lazily bouncy "In the Wake" puts a slightly happier spin on the same roots-rock approach. The light, hopeful "See the Light" puts a gentle period on the whole experience.

It should be noted that Valley isn't all McWhirter. The gentle hands of Ray Rizzo (percussion), John Woosley (guitar, vocals), Harley Wiseman (bass, vocals), Dave Howard (mandolin), Brian Goodwin (violin, lap steel, etc.) and Scott Anthony (keys) massaged this album to smooth, satisfying perfection. (I bet I know what you're thinking: "You had me at Ray Rizzo." Right?)

McWhirter's lyrics are just as satisfying; what they lack in specificity they more than make up for in vulnerability and emotion. More than that, they are personal - littered with references to "you" and "me." There is no third person anywhere to be found. Plus, while his voice would probably sound great over a Creed song, it sounds even better in this arena.

Damn, this is a good album.