After performing live regularly up and down the California Coast and honing her craft for the better part of a decade, Valarie Mulberry has written and self-released an exceptional album worthy of wider praise and attention. The full-length album, titled The Simple Things, showcases 10 songs that demonstrate Mulberry’s evocative voice and talent for writing memorable hooks. Calling her style “Sunshine Rhythm & Blues,” the album features diverse mix of pop, folk and blues influenced songs.
Several of the songs on the album are laden with tropical imagery. Mulberry spent five years living on the island of Maui and two years in Vietnam. A self-described country girl, Mulberry grew up in an Oregon ghost town surrounded by a deciduous rain forest. “There was a river in the backyard and train tracks in the front,” Mulberry says about her rootsy upbringing. She eventually moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where she gigged extensively for several years and is currently based in Santa Barbara, California, where music columnist Brett Leigh Dicks called her sound “a soulful take on folk music.”
The album establishes Mulberry’s strength as a versatile songwriter, as she moves easily from profound to lighthearted and from simple lilting rhythms to funk and jazz influenced tunes. “I like to write in what I think of as different genres, but it’s all me, so it has a common thread.” Helping to complete her sound is producer Maximiliano De Leon. De Leon, an adept guitarist, also played electric guitar and bass on the album. Choosing lush, vintage keyboard sounds on the blues influenced numbers, only cello on a guitar fingerpicking song called Island, to an outstanding electric guitar solo in the funky, upbeat song Unravel, the instrumentation has variety. However, Mulberry’s sultry voice and often, wise lyrics create a cohesive feel throughout the album.
Her lyrics can be downright honest, to playful and fun. Mulberry navigates the territory of universal truth effortlessly with Higher, a song illustrating her interest in mysticism. She sings about access to the Askashic record; the place where all is known, with “There is no hiding here, the place where intention is laid to bare, where everything is seen, truth is the highest healing.” With a penchant for to boiling it all down with simple but accurate lyrics she successfully captures a massive esoteric concept inside an uplifting, blues inspired melody.
On top of an upbeat jazz-funk rhythm on Love Triangle she makes light of getting romantically entangled with someone who is unavailable. She plays on words with “I’m tired of this love triangle, there are better shapes I could be in,” only to capture how confusing the situation can be in the bridge with “although it’s a lovely hell,” describing the pain and pleasure of such a relationship.
On stage, Mulberry is often comedic-- cracking jokes, poking fun at herself, telling silly short stories with ease --and singing with presence and intensity. She engages her audience effortlessly with animated antics and facial expressions. “I am not afraid to be dorky,” she says, “especially if it makes someone laugh, but I don’t force it if I am not feeling particularly humorous either.”
What’s next for Mulberry? “I have at least another album of material that is on par with what I have just recorded that I would love to get out in the next couple years, and of course I am always writing,” she says, “but first I am going to make a video for my song ‘Lion’s Roar.’ Someone has offered to help me and being an independent musician, I will happily invite all the help that I can get.” After focusing on recording her album for the last 18 months, Mulberry is looking forward to getting back on stage more regularly, “I just want to keep performing and connecting with audiences.” And with that, she keeps moving forward.
By Cybil Gilbertson