rsz_e4s1pic1usebigTennessee folk and blues singer Valerie June performed a fabulous one hour-plus set with two encores at the St Luke’s Church venue in Montenotte, Cork, the weekend before last.
Acclaimed by no less than Noble Prize winner Bob Dylan, she also played Leap in Cork the night before heading to tour across Europe.
She got some airplay with RTE’s John Creedon and had a few hundred fans cheering this unique Black American singer, who stems from the Southern gospel tradition.
A brilliant song writer, she was charming and friendly on stage and is a total natural. Ireland, she reckons is friendly and spiritual but mystical like the weather.
Her fans ranged from all ages and we could hear beer cans being opened and popped between songs in a former church – not a typical sound in such a setting. Our New York based son had seen her before and was highly recommended.
We knew her old album, ‘Pushin’ Against A Stone’ and great tracks like ‘Working Women’ blues were performed, plus ‘Somebody to Love’ and ‘Tennessee Time’.
“Understanding the order of time is important to anyone hoping to manifest a dream,” she said in a previous interview. “There is a time to push, and a time to gently tend the garden.”
She finger picks smoothly and gently played her guitar and banjo, which at times sounds like bluegrass.
Since the release of her 2013 breakout ‘Pushin’ Against A Stone’, June has been patiently at work in the garden of song, nurturing seedlings with love and care into the lush bloom that is her stunning new album, ‘The Order Of Time’.
Some songs grew from seeds planted more than a decade ago, others blossomed overnight when she least expected them to, but every track bears the influence of time. See, time has been on June’s mind a lot lately.
It’s the only constant in life, even though it’s constantly changing. It’s the healer of all wounds, the killer of all men. It’s at once infinite and finite, ever flowing with twists and turns and brutal, churning rapids that give way to serene stretches of placid tranquillity. Fight against the current and it will knock you flat on your ass. Learn to read it, to speak its language, and it will carry you exactly where you’re meant to be. She is an amazing lyricist.
“Time is the ruler of Earth’s rhythm,” June explains. “Our daily lives revolve around it. Our hearts beat along to its song. If we let it, it can be a powerful guide to turning our greatest hopes and dreams into realities.”
June knows a thing or two about turning hopes and dreams into realities. With ‘Pushin’ Against A Stone’, she went from self-releasing her music as Tennessee’s best kept secret to being hailed by the ‘New York Times’ as one of America’s “most intriguing, fully formed new talents.” The ‘New Yorker’ was captivated by her “unique, stunning voice,” while Rolling Stone dubbed her “unstoppable,” and NPR called her “an elemental talent born with the ability to rearrange the clouds themselves.”
She astonished TV audiences from coast-to-coast with spellbinding performances on The Tonight Show, The Late Show, Austin City Limits, Rachael Ray, and CBS Saturday Morning, and graced some of the world’s most prestigious stages, from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Centre.
First Lady Michelle Obama invited June to The White House, and she toured with artists like Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Sturgill Simpson, Norah Jones, and Jake Bugg in addition to flooring festival crowds at Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Newport Folk, Hangout, ACL, Pickathon, Mountain Jam and more.
In the UK, the reaction was similarly ecstatic. June performed on Later…with Jools Holland, joined a bill with the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, and took the press by storm. Uncut praised her “remarkably careworn vocals,” MOJO swooned for her “glorious sound,” and The Independent’s Andy Gill wrote: “June has the most strikingly individual delivery I’ve heard in ages.”
In her heart, June is a songwriter first and foremost, willing and able to blur the lines between genres and eras of sounds. The result is an eclectic blend of folk and soul and country and R&B and blues that is undoubtedly the finest work of her career. Opener “Long Lonely Road” settles in like languid southern heat, as June looks back to the sacrifices of her parents and grandparents, singing in a gentle near-whisper of the sometimes difficult, sometimes beautiful journey we all must undertake in search of brighter days.
“People shouldn’t necessarily think of bluegrass when they see the banjo,” explains June. “It was originally an African instrument, and people in America used to play all kinds of banjo: mandolin banjo, ukulele banjo, bass banjo, classical banjo, jazz banjo, there were even banjo orchestras. For some reason people like to limit it and say it just has to be in folk and bluegrass, but to me it can be in anything, and I really wanted to set the banjo free on this record.”
The banjo turns up again later as the underpinning of the R&B rave-up “Got Soul,” which plays out like a mission statement for the new e album, as June offers to “sing a country tune” or “play the blues” but reveals that underneath it all is her sweet soul. Those genre terms might be simplistic ways to attempt to define her, empty signifiers creating distinctions between sounds where June sees none.
In Cork, we found her guitar playing to build up slowly, over a meditative hum that hints at John Cale.
Despite the music’s varied nature, the songs all belong to a cohesive family, in part because they’re tied together by Valerie June’s unique voice
She mentioned at the Cork gig that she met Amy Winehouse (singer of ‘Valerie’ among other tracks) after playing Dingwalls in London.
Everything around us (our loved ones, our youth, our beauty) will someday fade and disappear, but that transience is what makes those things all the more magical. We’re given this brief moment to share our love and light with the world, and when, as June sings on the album, “Time’s hands turn and point straight towards you,” you’d better be ready.
Thankfully for us, June was ready when time told her to harvest these songs. There is a time for everything and the moment has finally arrived to enjoy the fruits of all her labour. With ‘The Order Of Time,’ Valerie June has prepared well , find and enjoy her music. Even Michelle Obama had her play in the White House – so beat that!