Cazz Blase listens to Valerie June’s debut studio album, Pushin’ Against a Stone and finds a maturity and ease of style that suggests longevity.
Valerie June calls her music “Organic moonshine roots music” and, given both the ease of her performances and the rawness of her songs, this would seem to be an apt description.
June creates songs that have their origins in country, gospel, roots and bluegrass and, of course, the blues. Her debut album, Pushin’ against a stone, has been released on Rob da Bank’s label Sunday Best and opens with the raw and rootsy ‘Workin’ Woman Blues’, June’s debut single and calling card. The most explicitly gritty of her songs, ‘Workin’ Woman Blues’ showcases June’s songwriting, guitar and singing skill alongside a fierce sense of anger and injustice. “I ain’t fit to be no mother, I ain’t fit to be no wife, I been workin’ like a maniac, I been workin’ all my life,” she sings over a stark guitar as an exquisite jazz horn adds beauty to a piece that reeks of the sweat of hard work and poverty. It may be delivered in a retro style but the themes are timeless.
The pared down minimalism of ‘Somebody to Love’ doesn’t need a jazz horn for added beauty. This Dixie country lullaby has its own understated purity, like Butch Cassidy riding off in the rain and dust. It could be both campfire sing along and soothing lullaby, a first dance at a wedding or something that evokes memories and tears, such is its universal charm.
Soulful and ghostly track ‘The Hour’, which follows, has a repetitive riff that lodges itself in the brain. This is the sound of summer, delicate, minimal and lovely, which is not to suggest that it is any way an ephemeral piece, more that it carries itself lightly. It feels akin to doo wop and the girl groups of the early 1960s, such as the Chantels, but with a thoroughly modern evolved sound.
‘The Hour’ is followed by the strumming rootsy country of ‘Twined & Twisted’, which begins softly and a cappella. It is a very intimate and poignant piece, evocative of isolation and restless travel, a world weary busker assessing her lot. June manages to communicate a lot simply with voice and guitar; this is one of her strengths…
Valerie June will be supporting the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park 13 July. She will also be performing at Latitude on July 21, at Cambridge Folk Festival 28 July and at the End of the Road festival 1 September.
Image description: Cover of Valerie June’s Pushin’ Against a Stone. This shows a sideways head and shoulders shot of Valerie June in a red top, looking to the right, with her hair piled high.
Video description: Valerie June’s ‘Wanna Be on Your Mind’. Sound plays over a still shot of the cover of Valerie June’s Pushin’ Against a Stone.
EDIT: The original standfirst for this review had a release date of 13 August 2013 on it. This has now been removed, as it relates to the US and not the UK, where the release date was 6 May.