Review: Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone

6 May

valerie june pushin against a stone

An unexpected challenge presents itself when seeking to review Valerie June’s official debut album; actually managing to write anything. So mesmerising and enchanting is her sweet southern-belle voice and so captivating are the 11 tracks that time after time the end of the album was reached and not a word had been written, so lost were we in the mix of Memphis blues, folk, soul, roots, country and pop.

It has taken a while, but the world is finally starting to wake up to and embrace Valerie’s immense talent. After seven years plus of hard graft, three ‘bootleg’ albums, countless menial jobs and a feeling that any success would only ever come in her dotage, Pushin’ Against A Stone marks the beginning of a bright new chapter in her life. As she sings on the album closer, “Lord I’m on my way”.

What is a little surprising is the number of styles that are embraced across the record. Her ‘organic moonshine roots music’ has always had a little bit of everything present but here each track has its own unique identity. “Tennessee Time” is almost pure country while “Wanna be on your Mind” is a delightfully soft summer jam, blessed with Cults-like plinky plonks and subtle bwacka-wacka guitar licks that nudge the track along gently from within. Valerie’s doleful vocals call out, imploring that special someone to make her the most important thing in their life, “I wanna be on your mind/I wanna stay there all the time”. It is probably the most pop-based track on the album, with its beautifully layered harmonies and is one of those songs you fall for the very first time you hear it.

The title track is something else entirely though and utterly spellbinding. Dark moments and struggles seep out from the incessant step-step-step of the organ sounds as Valerie recounts the battle she has overcome, the drudgery of life she has worked through to reach her goal, all the while backed by some glorious 60’s, Stylistics love song style backing vocals. Meanwhile the guitar grinds and wails like a trapped soul, fighting desperately to break free from the shackles of everyday life, straining its every sinew to destroy its mundane prison and soar out across the world, sharing its gift with us all. It’s an absolutely stunning five minutes of emotional and compelling music.

Elsewhere gospel features prominently, on “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations”, as well as dirty, grinding blues, on “You Can’t Be Told”, and folk, on “Twinned & Twisted”. Co-writing and production credits include Dan Auberach, Booker T Jones and Kevin Augunas but it is on Valerie that the whole album hangs and ultimately succeeds.

She is an extremely confident artist with unflinching belief and faith in her talent and this shows across what is an exceptionally assured debut. Her vocals, so distinctive and unlike almost anything else you’ve ever heard, slip seamlessly from style to style. Warmth and frost, steel like determination and vulnerable insecurity, world weary wisdom and wide-eyed naivety; all feature and all feel entirely natural. She has paid her dues, taken her licks and learnt her lessons. This education, her talent and the fact that she probably bleeds music and Memphis has all come together in a glorious whole and the result is a fantastically varied and captivating album.

’Pushin’ Against A Stone’ is out today on Sunday Best Records and available to buy digitally here and on CD/Vinyl here.

Read More About: Valerie June

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One Response to “Review: Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone”

  1. name not supplied August 1, 2013 at 21:56 #

    i like the lazy bluesy sound she has, what mad hair she’s got!

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