VALERIE JUNE – THE ORDER OF TIME (CAROLINE)
There are some moments in your musical life that stay with you forever. Your first concert, for example. Both Valerie June and Rhiannon Giddens have provided me in the past few years with some memorable moments that have made indelible impressions.
Back in April 2010 I literally stumbled across Valerie June at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Wandering along Yazoo Street past numerous buskers I came across a dreadlocked young singer under a small plastic gazebo who’s playing was even more striking than her appearance. As she wound her way through an hour of country blues, telling stories between the songs the audience grew from just a few almost a hundred, until she had more viewers than anyone else in town. It was riveting. I wrote at the time that her voice was ‘plaintive and emotive, almost as if she has lived too much for her years.’ It was, I noted, ‘like hearing Billie Holiday singing the blues.’ That life story does have a lot of experience behind it and she told us excitedly of how she was going to New York to record.
At the same time June was working with Luther Dickinson (son of legendary producer Jim Dickinson and a North Mississippi Allstar) on a project called The Wandering that also included Amy LaVere and Shannon McNally. Their only album Go On Now You Can’t Stay Here was released in 2012 but by that stage June’s path was set. The following year, June released Pushin’ Against A Stone, an album that was co-produced by Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys and Kevin Augunas (who had introduced him to June). It would also win over Michelle Obama as June’s most notable fan. (A couple of years later June was nominated in the Best New Artist category and her failure to win seems to me to be a comment on the state of the blues these days as she was far and away the nominee with the most potential).
You might have thought that Luther Dickinson was a certainty to produce the debut album using Auerbach was an excellent decision. Similarly, the decision to use producer Matt Marinelli for her new album turns out to be key in sensitively broadening the musical palette. Norah Jones assists on harmony vocals and fits in perfectly.
The Order of Time, June’s second album finds the Memphis singer synthesising various genres – folk, soul and bluegrass – into her own style. June’s voice remains a remarkable instrument in its own right, with the ache of those classic country and blues singers. Sometimes childlike, sometimes old and wise it cajoles and uplifts.
There are some stunning heart-rending ballads such as ‘Long Lonely Road’,’ ‘Love You Once Made’ and ‘Astral Plane’ (originally written for Massive attack) contrast with the romping Hill Country blues of ‘Shakedown’ and lilting pop of ‘Two Hearts.’ The Memphis-styled ‘Got Soul’ features a pumping horn section. It is all fantastic.