Classic Americana Albums: Valerie June “The Order of Time”

Concord Records, 2017

Valerie June’s unique vocals have the ability to encompass a broad range of emotions, in a similar way to a musician bringing different moods to his or her chosen instrument. There is a sense of worldliness to her voice which sometimes sounds cracked but never broken; bringing sadness, regret, dreaminess and optimism to her performances. June has said in relation to singing, “As you get older and you really listen to voices, then you realise that voices themselves are something mighty otherworldly; the cracks in them, the breaks in them, the place a person might breathe, the place they fail to breathe, how they hold the note and how long they hold the note, the character of voices.”; we are certainly not talking autotuned banality here.

Originally one half of the soul duo, Bella Sun, June departed this outfit when her marriage ended, her husband being the other half. There followed years of struggle as an independent artist until the breakthrough with her third album, ‘The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers’ which was produced and co-written by, Dan Auerbach of Black Keys fame. By this time, June had moved away from pure soul to what she describes as, “Organic moonshine roots music”. Hailing from Tenessee, June’s beautiful southern accent certainly has a country music lilt, though in reality, ‘The Order of Time’ is a heavenly mixture of dreamy, country flavoured, bluesy, soul-infused bliss that defies and deserves more than being placed into a pigeon hole. June’s strength is clearly her eclecticism, as she says, “Black women have always been eclectic and doing everything, we just didn’t make the headlines.”

‘Long Lonely Road’ greets us, showcasing the range of June’s reedy vocals generating a soulful country feel and telling of a painful search for happiness. Reverb-laden lead guitar, offered sparingly, helps generate extra atmosphere on this track. ‘Love You Once Made’ is a slow soulful number with organ and reverbed rhythm topped by country flavoured guitar; the finale moving into a crescendo of vocal harmonies. The tempo is raised with a rhythmic shuffle featuring distorted bluesy guitar and June’s late father’s vocals on, ‘Shakedown‘ whilst, ‘If And’ generates a hypnotic state of mind as it draws you into its magic. June’s vocals can be bluesy at times, any inherent despair being leavened by a kind of benign optimism that is particularly prevalent on tracks like, ‘Man Done Wrong’ and ‘The Front Door’. ‘Astral Plane’ asks, “Is there a light you have inside you, you can touch”, exuding a dreamy other-worldliness; this a hymn to the intangible. The Righteous Brothers may have influenced the sound to be heard in, ‘Just in Time’; the production is perfect. ‘Slip Slide on By’ has a country/gospel waltz rhythm with gorgeous horns to round the track off. ‘Two Hearts’ with its tentative intro builds into an affirmation of love whilst being fully aware of its fragility; it is this juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability that is so emotionally engaging throughout the whole album. The final, life-affirming track, ‘Got Soul’ brings to a close a wonderful collection of songs that can only make the world a better place and give strength to our dreams.

About Richard Phillips 62 Articles
From the leaden skies of Manchester to the sunny uplands of Cheshire, my quest is for authentic Americana. Love live music, my acoustic guitar and miss my baby (grand piano).
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