Valerie June has a strong, unmistakable, Billie Holiday-inflected voice, but the songs on the rural Tennessee native’s debut full-length most often hew to a country-gospel style that’s like an updated version of Alan Lomax’s field recordings — with occasional digressions into classic soul, gutbucket blues, and on album opener “Workin’ Woman Blues,” West African pop. Her co-conspirators span several generations of American garage and soul royalty: The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach co-produces, co-writes, and chips in some guitar, while Booker T. Jones himself guests on two tracks.
“Pushin’ Against a Stone” masterfully combines pristine sound with rough-hewn simplicity, whether she’s singing while accompanied only by a ukulele or, as on “You Can’t Be Told,” delivering a melody that clings unsteadily to Auerbach’s snarling swamp riff like a drunken rider on a fed-up horse.
The album has a studied looseness that’s never contrived, and it shows a poise and clarity of vision which her earlier efforts barely suggested. The result is one of those reconstituted roots albums — like Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand or even Moby’s Play or Alabama Shakes’ debut – that sounds reassuringly familiar yet original at the same time. Already a big favourite with us at Basement Discs.