Over the past decade or so, Jeff Larson’s consistent string of smart, hooky and alluringly accessible albums have borne clear references to the Southern California sound of the mid-to-late ’70s. So it seems fitting that for the lovely and evocative Heart of the Valley he has collaborated with America’s Gerry Beckley and welcomed appearances from soft-rock stalwarts including America’s other half, Dewey Bunnell, Poco pedal steel player Rusty Young and Brian Wilson associate Jeff Foskett. The America signature is immediate and unavoidable, given that Beckley penned the majority of the songs, produced the sessions and contributes the lion’s share of the instrumental duties— guitar, keyboards, bass, accordion, percussion and programming among them. Consequently, the album basks in a hazy supple sheen that helps ballads like the title track, “Airport Calling,” “Southern Girl” and “Five Mile Road” to invite an instant embrace. Credit Larson’s radiant vocals with accentuating the appeal, giving this set potential placement on adult-oriented soft rock radio—or for that matter, any arena where beautiful balladry, well-crafted compositions and studio savvy still have an opportunity to shine.

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