Homegrown Tennessean Valerie June’s long-awaited studio album Pushin’ Against A Stone promises to captivate and transport listeners with what she calls “Organic Moonshine Roots Music.”
After her first two independent albums gained her a following, Valerie June began a Kickstarter account to fund a full-length studio album. Her fans celebrated by donating over $15,000 and in return were thanked with Pushin’ Against A Stone. Written by June and produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and Kevin Augunas, these eleven tracks will captivate and transport you with what June calls “Organic Moonshine Roots Music”.
The first track properly surmises what the listener is in for: “Workin’ Woman Blues” begins as a folk song but grows into an engaging Afro-pop beat while June sings of the sacrifices she makes to be considered a good woman while working like a man.
We stop dancing as the album segues into “Somebody To Love”, a ballad that rivals Andy Williams’ “Moon River” with lonesome, simple lyrics that are accompanied by ukulele and violin (Booker T. Jones contributes organ to this track as well as “On My Way”). As with every blues album, there is a song about a straying lover but it is not sad, nor forgiving – between the softly sung yet still angry lyrics in “Shotgun”, June provides a guitar slide so haunting it makes Michael Myer’s key-tar theme sound like child’s play.
The album’s title track is a bleeding blazing hot five minutes of garage-soul-electricity that burns through the veins of those who find themselves gorging on nothing and moving towards no place, pushing up against a stone.
When a producer collaborates with an artist, their artistic voice may be heard on the released track, but it is a testament to the team when their voices intertwine and tangle so that no sound is more present than the other. This is not a complaint so much as a warning – Auerbach’s voice is loud and anyone with more than one of The Black Keys’ albums will hear it. However, Auberbach’s presence on the album is not as pronounced when he is providing backing vocals on “The Hour” and “Wanna Be On Your Mind”, two soulful callbacks to 60’s girl-group pop with June’s unmistakable voice providing a dark contrast in songs about time and the elasticity thereof when your love is so far behind or ahead of yourself. He is also featured on a country duet with June, “Tennessee Time”, an ode to June’s home state.
“You Can’t Be Told” has Auerbach’s fingerprints all over it: a barn burner anthem with crashing cymbals, a steady clamp-stomp beat and ear-pleasing guitar riffs along with a 30 second electric guitar solo by the great Jimbo Mathus. Despite June’s warning, “Honey if I give you everything/Then I’ll have nothing left,” I imagine we’ll be hearing this song in a television commercial soon.
– Written by Lorimar Hidalgo