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Valerie June - The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers Music Album Reviews

Valerie June - The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers Music Album Reviews
On her new album, the Memphis singer-songwriter and guitarist pens her most heavy-hearted songs, treating love and loss like old scars, fondly remembered.

When Valerie June arrived, she ignited conversations for the daring, easy way she mixed folk, soul, and Appalachian old-time music. The Memphis singer-songwriter and guitarist flaunted the fiddle and the nasal projection of Appalachian balladry on her 2013 label debut, Pushin’ Against a Stone, but they were also overshadowed at times between Richard Swift’s Wurlitzer and producer Dan Auerbach’s hi-fi touch. Tracing the gnarled roots of Appalachian music might lead you to Scotland or to Mississippi, depending, and June only wishes to further tangle those lines, while never fully abandoning the songcraft traditions that represent home to her.

Her latest, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, is probably her most far-reaching (look no further than the trap beat of “Within You”). But, crucially, this doesn’t feel like a calculated step as much as a symptom of something closer to the album’s center: June is carrying a noticeably heavier heart. Throughout these songs of love and loss and the acceptance of bygones, she sounds like she’s finger-tracing her own scars, looking down on them with a half-smile, remembering the story behind each one. It’s not as much a “feel good” record as her prior two, but it is no doubt a “feel more” record.

WIth ambitions set plainly high and an assist from producer Jack Splash, June delicately layers parts beneath her unmistakable voice, like memories converged beneath her calm. “You and I,” an early standout that blends the watercolor-vocal shading of Julianna Barwick into a ballooning ballad, features no fewer than 15 players, not one of whom overstays their welcome. As if to pause for reflection, June places short interludes around the best songs here, the spots where you might be inclined to pause anyway and let it sink in, culminating in an ambient track of birdsong and wind chimes to close out the album.

“Call Me a Fool,” which brings in the Memphis and Stax legend Carla Thomas for backing vocals and a spoken-word intro, is the grand centerpiece, a graceful retrofit of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” When June gets to the kicker, her declaration that the reward of loving the right person is worth any accompanying humiliation—“And I’ll be a fool anytime”—she casually chops off the front vowel of “And,” leaving just this beautiful and cracked “N’d’IIIII,” scratching its way from center stage to the back of the house. It is her perfect note.

June tends to write in easy, sly rhyme schemes reminiscent of the late John Prine, whom she eulogized last April with a solo cover of “In Spite of Ourselves,” the famous duet that they performed while touring together in 2018. For every moment when this style borders on hokey, there are others when it feels complete in its Prine-like knack for waiting until the very last word to earn the listener’s smirk. There’s an unmistakable whiff of “She’s my baby/I don’t mean maybe” when June rhymes “day we first met” with “had not one regret” and inevitably “don’t you forget” on the high-bar-setting opener “Stay.” Meanwhile, a flurry of strings and a solitary flute rise to the surface. The moment speaks for June on The Moon and Stars, simultaneously marveling at all the wonders that are out there, and at the truth that all you need is one good thing right here.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Valerie June - The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers Music Album Reviews Valerie June - The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 Rating: 5

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