Blending folk, soul, blues, and Appalachian traditional elements into a refreshingly timeless sound that sits outside any particular musical era, Valerie June stands in a long and storied line of unique performers in Memphis, a city with a still vibrant music scene even during the 21st century. The daughter of a brick cleaner from Humboldt in the flatlands of West Tennessee, June took quickly to the various local roots music styles in the area, teaching herself guitar and developing her own stylistic mix, interpreting traditional material like it was still alive and breathing, and writing her own material with an eye to the influences of passionate and socially minded songwriters like Bob Marley. She officially began performing at the age of 19 as half of the husband-and-wife duo Bella Sun (the couple released an album, No Crystal Stair, in 2004 on their own Bella Sun Music imprint), but when the marriage fell apart, June left the South and began living the life of a gypsy street musician, playing for change in bus and subway stations up and down the West Coast. She eventually returned to Tennessee, finally settling in Memphis, where she slid right into the city's active music scene. By now she had added banjo and lap steel to her musical base, and she began to draw local attention for her powerful performances, becoming a favorite at area folk festivals and workshops. She recorded two albums, The Way of the Weeping Willow and Mountain of Rose Quartz, at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, but she really came into the national eye when she was featured, along with rappers Al Kapone, Muck Sticky, and other musicians, in the MTV web series $5 Cover (put together by Craig Brewer, the creator of the movie Hustle & Flow), which followed Memphis musicians as they scrambled to pay the rent, fall in and out of love, and yes, play music in one of the most storied musical cities in the world. The series aired early in 2009, giving June and her music a platform for wider exposure. Using the publicity from the $5 Cover series, June went on to record the 2010 EP Valerie June & the Tennessee Express with the Old Crow Medicine Show. In 2011, June raised $15,000 via the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter to help fund the recording of her next album. A move to Brooklyn from Memphis and an introduction to Dan Auerbach (the Black Keys) put into motion the recording of her third studio album, Pushin' Against a Stone. With her singles on heavy rotation on European radio and a support slot with British singer/songwriter Jake Bugg, June's popularity continued to soar with Pushin' Against a Stone, finally released in May 2013 in Europe and in the U.S. in August of that year. She continued to tour over the next few years while writing and recording the material for her next release. Early 2017 saw the release of a new single, "Astral Plane," followed in March by June's fourth full-length album, The Order of Time. ~ Steve Leggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 6, 2013 | Sunday Best
Distinctions 4F de Télérama
Pushin' Against a Stone, Valerie June's Concord debut, is the fruit of over a decade of dues paying by the native Tennessean after three self-released "bootleg" recordings. While her music is steeped in various musical traditions of the South -- blues, black and country gospel, soul, and Appalachian folk -- she combines them so idiosyncratically, with canny production from Kevin Agunas and Dan Auerbach, that they openly embrace the possibilities of pop. June's instantly recognizable voice is big and reedy; standing firmly out front here, it falls in a lineage line between Eartha Kitt and Erykah Badu, with hints of the young Esther Phillips and even Dolly Parton. (For examples of the latter, check the string band waltz "Tennessee Time" or the world-weary folk narrative "Twined & Twisted.") While tradition is paramount in June's songs, it includes the present, making her the antithesis of a purist. Check opener "Workin' Woman Blues," where a skittering drumkit underscores urgent acoustic guitars, a funky bassline, and a jazzy, bumping, funky trumpet (reminiscent of Blue Mitchell) in a droning, griot-like blues. "The Hour" borrows the intro and outro from "I Put a Spell on You," and points to the darkness in the lyrics of the second verse. Yet the rest of the tune is a hybrid of early-'60s girl group pop and soul, complete with three-part harmony and a swelling B-3. That intro also makes its presence felt on the title track, adorned with wailing, fuzzed-out electric guitar atop a B-3 pulse, and June's delivery moves through Ray Charles' informed soul and Thomas A. Dorsey-infused gospel in the backing chorus. The only cover here is Estil C. Ball's "Trials, Troubles, Tribulations." It's an acoustic guitar and vocal duet (with Auerbach) that comes right out of the Carter Family but sounds contemporary. "Wanna Be on Your Mind," with its Rhodes piano and June's emphatic phrasing, references Phillips' early-'70s jazz-blues style. "Somebody to Love" is a ukulele and fiddle waltz, but it is soul, treated and gospelized by June's vocal and Booker T. Jones' organ. The single "You Can't Be Told" is a swampy blues with Jimbo Mathus on lead guitar that recalls R.L. Burnside in instrumentation, but June's delivery and her four-part call-and-response backing chorus make it a hypnotic, swaying groover. "Shotgun" features the songwriter accompanied only by her own bottleneck guitar offering a murder ballad. Its presentation is so subtle and smooth, it becomes jarring when the listener takes in the lyric. Despite her slippery blend of styles, June's songs on Pushin' Against a Stone reveal there is one historical place she doesn't deviate from: the storyteller's, a Southern hallmark. Despite being a shade too long, this is a solid endeavor that asks many questions even as spins its tales. ~ Thom Jurek
Pop - Released March 10, 2017 | Caroline Distribution
Following up her critically lauded 2013 label debut, Pushin' Against a Stone, Tennessean Valerie June offers The Order of Time, an ethereal dream sequence of Americana and roots music filtered through her own unique tendencies. What's refreshing about June is her gift for nuance, working unhurriedly through tones of Appalachian folk, gospel, blues, and even dream pop without feeling the need to hit listeners over the head with an overwrought delivery or even draw that much attention to her own stylistic diversity. With The Order of Time, she exudes the languid pace of the South with poetic songs and spacy arrangements that breeze out through the screen door. Though crowded with standouts, it's an album best enjoyed in full with a sequence that ebbs and flows with emotion and hidden intentions. From the sweet and slow nostalgia of "Long Lonely Road" to the droning enchantments of "If And" and the gently rousing dream-soul of "Got Soul," June weaves her strange and inviting spell, making it all seem so nonchalant. Her relaxed vocal style is distinctive and the frequent doubling of her vocal lines gives the songs a strangely alluring vibe amid the expansive organ, piano, and guitar parts. Where the slightly showier Pushin' Against a Stone covered a wider variety of styles, The Order of Time tends to flow more smoothly and gives the feeling that you've stumbled on a 45-minute section of ongoing music that has no beginning and no end. ~ Timothy Monger
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