The Washington Post

Valerie June album review, ‘Pushin’ Against a Stone’

Valerie June will perform in the Washington, DC area. (Susan Riddle Duke Photography)
“Pushin’ Against a Stone”

Kindred spirits: The Carter Family, Elizabeth Cotten, Billie Holiday

Show: With Tall Tall Trees on Sunday at Iota. Show starts at 8 p.m. 703-522-8340. $12.

Valerie June has been playing her blend of folk, soul and blues since she moved to Memphis in 2000. She has recorded with folk supergroup the Wandering (alongside Amy LaVere and Shannon McNally), but her solo records haven’t had widespread distribution. Until now, that is. June has teamed with a label to release her newest album, “Pushin’ Against a Stone.”

The singer-songwriter channels an old-timey, soulful folk here. The track “Workin’ Woman Blues” sounds almost like a lost Carter Family tune, while the sparse guitar and ghostlike vocals of “Shotgun” add to the haunting of the song’s murderous tale. But June isn’t
always so minimalistic. The sassy “You Can’t Be Told” is a rowdy singalong (with guest vocals by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Jimbo Mathus), and the twangy “Tennessee Time” is a laid-back homage to June’s home state.

June has teamed with some big names — Auerbach co-wrote several of these songs and is one of the album’s producers, and Booker T. Jones co-wrote and performs on album closer “On My Way.” But June’s work stands just fine on its own. Her “Twined & Twisted” highlights her plaintive voice, and her trancelike, lyrical repetitions on “Somebody to Love” capture the song’s aching loneliness.

Catherine P. Lewis


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