Valerie June’s latest album, The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, is a beautiful culmination of June’s own soul-searching. Unmistakably similar to all of June’s usual moving narratives and trademark mix of blues, country and R&B, The Moon And Stars doesn’t fail to bring something new to the table either. June’s latest album is almost painfully tender and captivating in some moments, triumphant in its beauty and originality in all the rest. Stylistically anchored in June’s familiar folk and blues style, The Moon And Stars isn’t afraid to experiment by tossing in some pop, esoteric self-discovery and unconventional song structure to stay fresh.
Most know June from her breakout 2013 album, Pushin’ Against a Stone. Born in Tennessee, June masterfully combines old-country flair with modern embellishment –– the product is something both classic and new, all in one foot-tapping package. June’s performances are always a touch hypnotic; a natural storyteller, her music effortlessly captivates heart and soul. It’s just as easy to sit and listen to as it is to bust a move.
The Order of Time (2017), June’s second album, cranked up the volume from the slower folk musings of Pushin’ Against A Stone. Songs like “Shakedown” added a new, sharper energy to June’s music; tracks like “Astral Plane” anchored the album with trademark vulnerability and slight esoteric exploration, too. June confidently builds upon her grounded country roots with stylistic explorations to form something entirely unique to herself.
Her latest album, The Moon And Stars, opens with the dreamy ballad “Stay.” Repeating “If you can believe it,” is a telling set up for the rest of the album’s exploration. June’s voice, drifting among beautiful violin and piano orchestration, makes for a song that’s a touch heart-breaking, ending in the same uncertainty with which she began: “And oh I, I don’t know / How long I’ll stay.” Her musing’s untethered drifting begs the question of where June will go, and more significantly, from where she may leave in the first place.
The Moon And Stars is packed with short, stylistically unique tracks which act as foils to June’s heavy-hitter tracks, as well as add much-needed experimentation to make the album feel distinct. “Stay Meditation” is composed of a medley of sounds that weave in between beats of silence: fluttering calls of a flute, clanging gongs and birds hidden in the distance, the track evokes a surreal scene of nature. The transition between June’s opening “Stay” and “Stay Meditation” manages to avoid a jarring disconnect by maintaining the same continuity of sounds — regardless of how short or long a track is, lyrics or none, June sticks to the same gentle waves of sound from start to finish.
“Stay Meditation” serves as a palette cleanser and transitions into “You and I,” which opens with a soft a capella — calm, tender and hypnotic. With “When love left just friendship / That’s when we found our greatest gift,” June crafts an unconventional but no less powerful love ballad, singing of an unbreakable love that lies beneath the tricky knots of romance. The song quickly builds in volume, coming to a crescendo with “I hope you feel it,” a call that reaches into the soul. June sings for everyone who loves simply and wholeheartedly. For a moment, it’s June’s love for us, too.
“African Proverb” is a brief, 27-second interlude that mirrors the dreamy opening of “Stay.” Carla Thompson, known as the “Queen of Memphis Soul” (“B-A-B-Y,” “Knock on Wood”) is featured on the album, breaking through the cascading notes of “African Proverb” to warn “Only a fool tries to test the depth of the water” –– a perfect set up for “Call Me A Fool” where June and Thompson sing of how love can twist someone around and how people love in spite of it.
But if you’re going to listen to one track from The Moon And Stars this week, listen to “Colors.” Emotionally overwhelming in its simplistic beauty, as June sings, “And it makes my eyes well again,” yours will, too.
Join Valerie June on her cosmic journey through the unknown, in which space, the final frontier, is trumped by one other grand “unknown”: ourselves.
Daily Arts Writer Madeleine Virginia Gannon can be reached at email@example.com.