Valerie June by Todd Cooper

Whenever searching for new music, I’m typically drawn to the work of singer-songwriters first. Singer-songwriters write, compose and perform their own musical material. Some describe this genre as music from the heart because the lyrics often draw first from personal experiences. The composition of these songs tends to be straightforward and spare so that emphasis remains on the lyrics or the story as I prefer to call it. Usually performances can also be more easily accomplished with little to no instrumentation.

Mavis Staples by Daniel Coston
Mavis Staples by Daniel Coston

A little more than a year ago, a friend shared the music of singer-songwriter Valerie June with me. At first listen, most might only place June in the folk, country, bluegrass or Appalachian genres, but more attentive ears will easily hear the vibrant hues of gospel, blues, rock and soul. I was and remain mesmerized by her sound, which is anchored by a distinctive southern drawl–a product of her upbringing in Tennessee. Even if I didn’t love June’s sound, her songwriting is special and touches the heart deeply. She’s such a formidable singer-songwriter that she wrote and performed on the track High Note from the legendary Mavis Staples’ 2016 album Livin’ on a High Note.

On November 13, 2015, I was lucky enough to attend a Valerie June concert in Roanoke, VA. The trip was in celebration of a friend’s approaching, milestone birthday. While this made it a memorable occasion, it is most memorable because this was also the same night as the terror attacks in Paris. During the concert, June discussed her sound and how it is influenced by many things including her experiences attending a black church for a while then a white church. She explained her songwriting process, which I interpreted as being highly detailed and spiritual. At one point she also briefly mentioned how “some people” don’t think she should be performing the style of music she does. I believe we witnessed this as a noticeable number of attendees abruptly left once or shortly after June took the stage. No matter, June ended mention of this by letting us know she had no plans of stopping. I’ll see her in concert again next week on March 7 at The Carolina Theatre of Durham.

Valerie June’s first album, Pushin’ Against a Stone, is solid from start to finish and her second album Order of Time, which released in January is an excellent follow up that remains true to her artistry while also exploring other feels. If you like what you hear, remember of course to #buythemusic.

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