August 26, 2013 by Jay Minkin
The roots of Americana continue to grow and branch out as the movement goes beyond the fiddle and pedal steel. New artists and new sounds push the envelope to expand the genera mixing even more influences for a recipe that a grill master basting a brisket would envy. Nashville is no longer the home for Outlaw and tabloid country western music. With Akron native son Dan Auerbach calling Music City home, he has established his Easy Eye Sound recording studio as a sandbox when not writing songs and performing in The Black Keys. One person that happened to walk into Auerbach’s studio door was a beautiful young lady by the name of Valerie June. Together, along with co-producer Kevin Augunas, created the debut album for the singer/songwriter called Pushin’ Against A Stone which was just released in the US market after wetting the UK listening audiences since May.
Like many young ladies from the south, Valerie June Hockett is referred to with two names. She grew up in a tiny place called Humboldt before moving to Memphis, and although there is an eerie similarity, she was not named after one of the famous Carter Family siblings. Valerie June describes her style as “Moonshine Roots Music” , but in layman’s terms it mixes some soul reminiscent of the legendary Stax Records sound with Appalachian gospel and folk on eleven tracks that will just blow the listener away. Her outstanding vocals, along with Auerbach’s signature guitar playing on eight of the songs, taste of something so familiar, yet completely unique and different. The album title references the journey by the thirty-one year old spending her life pushing against a stone. June says “The jobs I’ve had have been fitting for getting a true feel for how the traditional artists I loved came home after a hard day to sit on the porch and play tunes until bedtime.”
June opens with a self-penned Dylanesque “Workin’ Woman Blues” that takes a funky turn midway through with trumpeter Barabas Lorinc on lead. Five songs including “The Hour”, “You Can’t Be Told” and the title track are co-written with Auerbach which includes that little extra edginess. The artist pays tribute to her home state with “Tennessee Time” and the big single from the bunch might be a sensually seductive “Wanna Be On Your Mind”.
Now we can’t be talkin’ about Memphis without a little Booker T. Jones, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer adds his touch to the gorgeous track “Somebody To Love” along with co-writing the final selection “On My Way” which includes a reprise of the former song with June looping vocals accompanied by just her ukulele after a minute interlude. Also, Valerie June couldn’t have a record without a murder ballad on it, so with paying respects to Robert Johnson she added a song called “Shotgun”. The one lone cover is the Estil C. Ball composition “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations” that originally was a piece he called “Tribulations” based on the last book in the Bible and was originally recorded by Alan Lomax in 1959.
Valerie June will be hitting the road soon, so tap into all your resources including your local music venue’s e-blast for the latest concert announcements that she’ll make her way to your town. I’ve already booked myself into Cleveland’s intimate Beachland Tavern on October 20th for what could shape up to be a very special evening.