Prater: Valerie June – A voice to be reckoned with

Nia Prater

Nia PraterOn her website, Valerie June defines her sound as “organic moonshine roots music,” and I can hardly think of a better description.

Her debut album “Pushin’ Against a Stone,” runs through blues and country. Yes, it’s hard to classify a young, multi-instrumentalist from small-town Tennessee, but you sure won’t be able to forget about her.

One of our local radio stations, WXPN 88.5, named June their “Artist to Watch” for July. In the same month, she was also featured on NPR’s “10 Songs Public Radio Can’t Stop Playing” list with her immensely mature, “Workin’ Woman Blues.”

The album was produced by Kevin Augunas, who has worked with Cold War Kids, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Dan Auerbach, the lead guitarist and vocalist of The Black Keys. Auerbach lends those talents on several songs as backup to June.

My introduction to June’s music was in the form of a music video for her song “You Can’t Be Told,” a swaggering bluesy tune that’ll have you clapping your hands and stomping your feet as soon as you hit play. I know I was.  Here, you can really notice the Auerbach influence.

In the video, June stands, guitar in hand, in front of a crowd in some cavernous basement. She sings with a clear Southern twang, a voice full of soul and determination. She moves her head to the beat, her long, interwoven dreadlocks shifting along with her.  I was totally sold.

And her album does not disappoint. It’s 11 tracks long and runs just under 45 minutes, but even so, it leaves a lasting impression. It’s a work that came to be after June managed to raise $15,000 on Kickstarter. I have to say, her backers certainly got their money’s worth.

“Wanna Be On Your Mind” almost has a retro, ‘60s girl group, love song feel to it, while “Shotgun,” with its haunting and echoing tones, is very much a murder ballad. Though it’s hard to pinpoint one specific genre, the album at its core is definitely Americana.

In addition to the guitar and ukulele, June is also a skilled banjo player. Although that talent is not featured on this particular album, it is absolutely worth a search on YouTube.

She’s currently on tour promoting her new album and recently made a stop in Philadelphia. She’ll play a few more U.S. dates in New York and Virginia before departing for a long stint in Europe. June will continue her U.S. tour in September and is slated to play the Austin City Limits Festival in October during both weekends.

Whether you can make the trek to another state to see her play, or can simply pull up her music online, definitely go for it.  You certainly won’t regret it.

Nia Prater can be reached at nia.prater@temple.edu

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