March 10, 2017
Valerie June’s acclaimed 2013 debut, Pushin’ Against a Stone, was a crucial stage in a meteoric rise from selling home recordings from a car to supporting the Rolling Stones and winning a fan in Michelle Obama. Her second album finds the Tennessean again blending genres – folk, classic pop, soul and Appalachian bluegrass – into a cohesive whole, thanks to her top-notch songwriting and sublime musicianship. With her sultry ache of a voice, she could presumably sing the phone book and make it quake with feeling. These are further tales of long lonely roads and men who done wrong, and this set adds African rhythms, spacey soundscapes and guest vocals from Norah Jones. The songs run the gamut from ‘Love You Once Made’s organ-blasting bluesy soul and ‘With You’s Nick Drakeish strings to ‘Shakedown’, which is like a country Can. It’s an album bursting with standouts, none more so than ‘Astral Plane’, which finds June full of childlike wonderment amid a gloriously ethereal atmosphere reminiscent of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Fantastic stuff.