Watch out Dolly Parton, a new southern diva has risen–at least based on the new album by Memphis’s Valerie June. Called Pushin’ Against a Stone, the debut feat was co-written and produced by Dan Auerbauch of Black Keys fame. June describes it as “organic moonshine roots music”, and her vocal and instrumental styles incorporate blues, Appalachian folk, and gospel sounds. Overall, her musicianship shines through this remarkable versatility.
Her vocal expressions are also sharp, enunciated, and spiced with a southern inflection. In other words, they bring out her classic southern charm. Mixed in with her country flair are hints of soulful chords that give her voice a distinct flavor. For instance, on the track “Workin’ Woman Blues” where June announces that she has been a “workin’ woman” all her life, a piercing twang is juxtaposed with soft blues accents.
And the instrumentation that complements those accents is just as remarkable. Banjos and ukuleles effortlessly capture the rustic rhythms of classic country music while melodically evoking blues and gospel. June’s tantalizing tunes can seem like quaint yet edgy rhythms that maintain a level of excitement throughout a song’s duration.
The effort she puts into instrumental arrangement means that no two of her songs ever sound the same. Take, for instance, the song “Shotgun.” June arranges the piece for solo banjo, instead of a full band. The striking string instrument, alone, enhances her haunting lyrics and creates a sense of bare tension.
In contrast, June keeps a tight and rhythmic pulse in “You Can’t Be Told.” that makes her feel straightforward and raw. Here, she plays steady electric guitar rifts and uses clapping to back up the blues- and gospel- influenced rhythms.
Pushin’ Against a Stone will surely capture the hearts of those who listen to it. Valerie June’s Southern influences are beautifully woven together with flawless expertise. With every note sung and with every string plucked, her intricate artistry is displayed with precision and grace.
Don’t miss out on seeing Valerie June perform at The Fillmore on March 27, 28, and 29; she’ll be opening for Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.
Article by Autumn Shearer