Vale of Tears, Band Profile by Leslie Lyons

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Ace, May 1989
With the style-dictating influence of MTV and the accelerating co-optation of popular music for commercial purposes, one might wonder where rock music lives in the latter part of the twentieth century…and who owns the neighborhood? Bands with an original sound and sincere lyrics are few and far between and probably have an address that not many can find.

But there is hope. If you live in the Lexington, Kentucky area, you won’t have to look much further than your own back yard to find such a band.

Lexington’s Vale of Tears has been towing the subversive party line in this area for six years and they show no sign of retreat.

Their new EP, “Mental Inquest,” is testament that the band’s jazz/thrash sound hasn’t made any detours toward conformity. “We all have the same beliefs,” lead singer Toni “Tantrum” Briggs explains, “and we’re gonna stick together until someone recognizes us or we get tired.”

Tiring they are not. Throughout this decade, VOT has opened Lexington rock clubs like Prall Town Cafe, Cafe LMNOP, and the Disco Club, all defunct now, and was the first band to perform at Cheapside Bar. They have toured much of the U.S. and parts of Canada, released a single, an LP, and now a six-song EP.

They have witnessed the demise of the Lexington music scene, one that changed from a self-indulgent progressive movement, to one that now caters to college students and CD buyers.

“There is no scene anymore,” Willie Shuman, VOT bassist, argues. “Bands are novelty acts.” But not his band. “Our band is as ugly as we are,” he says. “We’re a street band and there ain’t no street left.”

Regardless, “Mental Inquest” rocks with a six-ear perfected sound that will drive you right out of your house in search of that late-lamented street.

The rhythm section, Shuman on bass and Dell Pruitt on drums, will steer you down the main strip with compelling force and expertise while lead singer Briggs hurls wild vocal intonations directly in your path. The tempting sounds of a soft saxophone, orchestrated by Becky Sturdivant, will steal you away from it, and all but leave you stranded in a dark alley, to be rescued by Tootie Shipley’s screaming guitar. When Shipley cuts lose in “Can’t Help Myself,” the final song on the EP, you might find yourself in the middle of a seven-car pile-up somewhere on the outskirts of town.

Live, Vale of Tears will always entertain. Briggs will fling his dreads at you and dance spasmodically with or without you. “Tony ain’t got no rhythm,” Pruitt says. “He’s the only black man I know that would be lost in a disco.” The rest of the band will churn out the sound that they know best, and it’s a sound that can’t be found in a raisin commercial. It’s a sound all their own.

Vale of Tears plays May 5, 1989 at the Wrocklage, located near the corner of North Broadway and Short Street.

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