Pushin’ Against A Stone
Okay, so she doesn’t have the jazz chops – nor the deep blues – of Cassandra Wilson but I like where Valerie June is heading here; I like that she doesn’t ever stick to one genre and milk it. You can’t quite know where this album is going track to track, you’ve got to not only follow it but stick with it, there are twists and turns and surprises. On the one hand you could excerpt from this and have her lined up with that Duffy/Winehouse/Adele-type pseudo-revivalist crowd – but that wouldn’t be an accurate portrait. You could also have her playing alongside Erykah Badu, partying with Angelique Kidjo or Me’Shell Ngedgeocello and she manages transitions from gospel-influenced material and country-tinged blues so well.
The key to this album is in the songwriting, the sound, the colours – the daring approach of letting each song speak its truth. If the guitars are up (You Can’t Be Told) that’s because a bluesy swagger is dictating the flow (and it ain’t hard to spot Dan Auerbach’s involvement here; he’s good though in that sidecar role, producer/co-producer – his work’s as clean here as it was with Dr. John). If there’s a bewitching late-night-soul sound required (The Hour) you’ll find it; a sort of new take on old Dusty Springfield. And June can do dark night of the soul (the title track) or light, slippery – shimmering – groove pieces (Wanna Be On Your Mind).
This record almost slipped me by late last year – I’d go in for a clip or two, couldn’t quite ever commit, couldn’t quite see my way forward with it. But hearing it mentioned a few more times this year and finding something so genuinely rewarding in the voice – in its storytelling capacities, in the way its bent to suit blues and country and gospel, all dressed up for church one minute, and then back down, bent double, back in the field and hollerin’ the next – has been this year’s revelation. Some things take time I guess. Good things. And this is certainly that. Where I will continue to compare June with Wilson – and I hope she give me reason to continue to – is in the hope that the songwriting and the conviction in the telling of the tale will carry on in a similar way.
This record feels like a really nice find.