MAY 3, 2017 by Valerie June
I began listening to the singer and songwriter Valerie June last fall, at a time when the relentlessness of the Presidential campaign season was pushing me toward new sounds—or, as in the case of June, something new spun out of old materials. I had seen her album “Pushin’ Against a Stone” filed in at least three different sections of a local record store (“Jazz,” “Soul / R. & B.,” “Rock”). However categorized, it was a kind of music I might have ignored at a different time: I go through weeks where I barely listen to anything without a voice that isn’t Auto-Tuned, glossed, or coarsened during postproduction. But I wanted to hear a stranger’s voice. I found June’s voice so untroubled. I was drawn to the way her music edged into different, old-timey genres, cohering around a belief that the American songwriting tradition was common ground. June’s utopian vision of what she described as “organic moonshine roots music” felt a little out of step with the hectic, angry urgency of the land that had produced it.
June grew up in western Tennessee, a part of the state often described as a meeting point between different musical traditions: blues, gospel, Appalachian folk. As a child, in the eighties, she often tagged along with her father, a local promoter specializing in gospel and R. & B., as he put up posters around town. In her late teens, she moved to Memphis, where she began trying to assimilate these disparate influences in the funky, jam-happy rock band Bella Sun, which she formed with her then husband, Michael Joyner. Read more here.