2013 Albums of the Year #9: Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone

16 Dec

valerie june pushin against a stone

Number Nine in our Albums of the Year countdown comes from a lady with a unique voice, fantastic stories to tell and weave into her music and a special sound, all of her own.

Valerie June’s official debut album, Pushin’ Against A Stone, showcases her mesmerising and enchanting southern-belle voice and a myriad of styles bubbling within her ‘organic moonshine roots music’, though each track retains its own individual 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 on Sunday Best Records and available to buy digitally here and on CD/Vinyl here.

Stalk Valerie June: Website / Facebook / Twitter

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