Somebody to Love

Valerie June, “Pushin’ Against a Stone,” 2013: Image

With the modern trend of cross-genre musical collaboration still holding strong, it is not exactly unique to hear a crooner belting out bluesy lyrics backed by country twang or power pop harmonies. Valerie June is one of many emerging artists who transcend traditional music categories, but that fact does not make her music any less memorable. Pushin’ Against a Stone, June’s Kickstarter funded fourth solo album, is powerful from beginning to end.  With the help of some big name collaborators – from Peter Sabak to Booker T. Jones – June’s creation is a true testament to her talent and versatility as an artist. She unapologetically moves seamlessly from folk to blues to country to gospel to 60’s girl band and back again. The album, both unpredictable and comfortably familiar, is evidence of June’s true talent.

A rural Tennessee native who paid her dues in the Memphis scene, June puts out music she has defined as “organic moonshine roots,” and does so with clear passion and authenticity. Her voice, which brings to mind Billie Holiday, Dolly Parton, and Erykah Badhu, is unapologetically varied and strong. Its haunting quality on the album’s title track quickly shifts to a soft but hallowed fire on the Estil C. Ball hymn, “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations.” The album’s stand-outs, however, are June’s more tough numbers. The opening song, a trumpet infused weighty piece, “Workin’ Woman Blues,” highlights June’s raw voice and strength as a writer with minimalist production and lyrical shifts between moments of feminist identifications and defeatist desires. It is consistent, however, in its powerful sound and lasting impact. This song is just one of many on the album that will have listeners tapping along. “You Can’t Be Told,” co-written by Dan Auerbach, singer of the soul-inspired garage rock powerhouse The Black Keys, is a straight-up stompin’ number that challenges listeners to try to hear it without pulsing along. It is in this song, the one most clearly derivative of her collaborators, that June proclaims she “ain’t tryin’ to be nobody but [her] fine sweet self.” This line definitely rings true. Although she is making use of sounds popularized by others, and it is not the most innovative collection of sounds on the radio today, this album is all her.

From the ‘he done me wrong’ murder ballad “Shotgun” to the smoky and dreamy “Wanna Be On Your Mind,” Pushin’ Against a Stone is an album to pay attention to. Pushin’ Against a Stone is driving music, music for rainy days, music for Sunday afternoons and Saturday nights. It is well worth a listen – preferably on vinyl or with good quality headphones.

Here’s the video for the album’s first single, “You Can’t Be Told.”

Looking for more Valerie June? Check out “Give Me Water,” one of  many examples of her strength as a collaborator.

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