The 31 Days of Music: Best of 2013 has come to a close; I swear it feels as if I started it just a few days ago. We have seen a list of 30 records that has traversed a wide range of musical sounds to end up here at Number 1. Without any further delay I give you that #1 record, Valerie June’s Pushin’ Against a Stone.
Tennessee native Valerie June has been around music most of her life. She has recorded multiple solo records, was once part of Bella Sun and is a major cog in the supergroup The Wandering alongside Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), Amy LeVere, Sharde Thomas and Shannon McNally. In 2013 she delved into another solo record bringing along one hell of a supporting cast for Pushin’ Against a Stone, a collection of tunes that takes on multiple shapes and sounds.
Brought in for production purposes the duo of Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) & Kevin Augunas (he has worked with too many people to list) have taken June’s raw ideas, tossed in their two cents and helped her mold each track. (You can hear Auerbach’s fingerprints, as well as his sludgy guitar work on a few of the songs.) June pulls sounds from everywhere as her songs load up with soul, gospel, folk, country, blues and jazz flavors. The cornucopia of sounds created on this record form a nest that cradles June’s sumptuous vocals as she sings songs about life’s trials and tribulations.
She introduces the record to listeners with the powerful “Workin’ Woman Blues”. Loaded with rhythms that roll along like a train meandering down a track she sings of a no frills life full of work and little play. As the tune moves along the perfectly placed horns totally take this song to another level. Soul is the flavor of the moment on the swanky “The Hour”. Singing about saying goodbye June’s sultry voice is framed by the music of Auerbach (guitar), Richard Swift (drums, keys) and Jimbo Mathus (guitar). This track along with “Pushin’ Against A Stone” and “Wanna Be On Your Mind” are the heart and soul of this record. Infused with a taste of country, “Tennessee Time” and “On My Way” exemplify the diversity of this album, with Booker T. Jones playing a MAJOR role on the latter. Auerbach & June partner up to cover Estil C. Ball’s “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations”. A simple guitar and brilliant vocal harmonies do this classic tune justice as they sing about life choices being judged at the gates of heaven. Two of the most impressive tracks on the record are complete opposites. On “Somebody To Love” June belts out a heartfelt cry for love as she, Booker T and Luca Kezdy create a beautiful soundscape that delivers a punch while remaining sparse and dainty using a ukulele, violin, organ and vocals. With “You Can’t Be Told” Auerbach & Mathus supply a nasty blues infused double guitar attack as June wails on about doing whatever it takes to escape a bad man. This track just slinks along dragging the listener down with it. Finally you have the songs “Shotgun” and “Twined & Twisted”. These are all June. Armed with just an acoustic guitar her voice will haunt your soul as she delivers emotion filled lyrics.
On Pushin’ Against a Stone Valerie June stacks the deck with great producers and great musicians, but it is her voice that carries this record. Strip away all the layers of rhythms and melodies and you have her words and her voice. The soulful delivery of each song, loaded with emotion, brings each tune to life and makes the listener want to play it over and over. June has created a record that cannot be corralled into one category; it is just loaded with a lot of damn good music. I listen to this record at least once a week because it fails to get old. Give it a listen, sit back, relax and enjoy the hell out of it.
31 Days of Music: Best of 2013
31 - Futurebirds - Baba Yaga
30 - Mike Snowden - One Man Cigar Box Guitar Band Live
29 - Teen Getaway - Hits and Missives
28 - Barrence Whitfield & the Savages - Dig Thy Savage Soul
27 - Robert Pollard - Honey Locust Honky Tonk
26 - Camper Van Beethoven - La Costa Perdida
25 - Je Suis France - Coleslaw III Drymouth
24 - Dorado - Anger, Hunger, Love and the Fear of Death
23 - Ezra Furman - Day of the Dog
22 - Hymn For Her - Lucy & Wayne's Smokin' Hot Flames
21 - Patrick Sweany - Close To The Floor
20 - Tedo Stone - Good Go Bad
19 - Chandler Travis Three-O - This Is What Bears Look Like Under Water
18 - Devon Allman - Turquoise
17 - Kick The Robot - Music To Fight The Future
16 - Sebadoh - Defend Yourself
15 - Escondido - The Ghost of Escondido
14 - Doc Feldman & the LD50 - Sundowning at the Station
13 - Porter & the Pollies - Self Titled EP
12 - Drivin' n' Cryin' - Songs From The Psychedelic Time Clock
11 - Deathfix - Self-Titled
10 - Chris Stamey - Lovesick Blues
09 - Have Gun, Will Travel - Fact, Fiction or Folklore
08 - T. Hardy Morris - Audition Tapes
07 - Great Peacock - Self-titled EP
06 - Superchunk - I Hate Music
05 - David Bowie - The Next Day
04 - Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition - White Buffalo
03 - John Moreland - In The Throes
02 - Jason Isbell - Southeastern
01 - Valerie June - Pushin' Against A Stone