Valerie June ‘Pushin’ against a stone’ (Sunday Best) 4/5

In recent years the dividing line between country and soul music has grown ever thinner with a greater knowledge about the commonality between the two and collaborations between artists. For Tennessee born singer-songwriter Valerie June fusing the two genres comes as second nature and this first international release from her is one of the summer’s finest albums in terms of the sheer depth and variety of musical terrain she covers. There are elements of folk, country, blues and classic soul all expertly woven into a distinctive whole. A killer summer song is ‘Wanna be on your mind’ which just about wins the award for the album’s most appealing number, but it is run a close second by the title track which is an obvious single and has something of a neo-Motown backbeat to it. On the country-soul of ‘Tennessee time’, a tribute to her native state, there are shades of the Louvin Brothers in June’s harmonies. And what of her voice? It is an idiosyncratic and highly individual one and will serve her well throughout her career.

The authentic folk of ‘On my way’ appeals, as does the country-folk of ‘Somebody to love’, which features some gospel-infused voicings. On ‘Trials, troubles, tribulations’ June pares things down to just voice and guitar and comes across as the next best thing to Gillian Welch in the process. For some psychedelic-inflected blues, look no further than ‘You can’t be told’. Valerie June could just be the female equivalent of Bill Withers for the twenty-first century: a singer who, in reaching deep into her native musical roots, comes up with a result that has truly universal appeal and if that proves accurate, then it will be some accomplishment. This could just prove to be the album of the summer and only that slowly, yet surely enters into your subconscious.

Tim Stenhouse

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