A Dreamy Reimagining of Roots
It’s no surprise that singer-songwriter Valerie June spent her formative years immersed in Appalachian gospel. In her sophomore album, The Order of Time, June gives a vocal performance that calls into question whether accompanying instruments are really all that necessary. Granted, that question is quickly dismissed by the sparsely laid, shimmery xylophone and the snare drum’s perfect rhythm. Along with the organ, plucked straight from southern gospel, these elements synergize into an album that transcends any particular genre or period.
The Order of Time is an intimate album in both its lyrics and production. On “Shakedown,” the second single and possibly most lively track, June’s brothers and late father — not to mention Norah Jones — sing background vocals. “Love You Once Made” is a heartbreaking ode to daily rituals with a former lover, while “Long Lonely Road” recounts a tale of struggle and yearning that radiates with something vaguely bittersweet and just out of reach. The last syllable of each word seems to melt off into the ethereal world June carefully crafts. Her vocal command is at times astounding, her nasally twang sounding like a plucked lap steel string, as mournful as it is resilient.
June displays a knack for building momentum in “Astral Plane” and “Slip On By,” which begin with quiet musings over barely-there guitar and then accelerate, accumulating instruments and energy like a snowball in descent. The thirty-five-year-old, seasoned blues vocalist sounds almost like a child on “Astral Plane” when she queries in the opening line, “is there a light you have inside you?” The latter track finds June’s hazy drawl weaving wearily in and out of an exuberant saxophone performance. The album rounds out with “Got Soul,” a jubilant tune that lives up to its title and sounds like a song that would play over the end credits of a triumphant underdog flick.
Despite the array of influences both consciously chosen and deeply inherent in June’s music, she has established herself as an artist with a distinct style that can’t be summed up to the mere total of blues, folk and gospel. A worthy follow up to June’s debut, which landed on Rolling Stone’s top 50 albums of 2013, The Order of Time takes the standard template for country songwriting and sprinkles it with a fistful of stardust and a keen eye for wonder.