Just when we thought that genuine, deep roots folk blues music was only a domain of previous generations, the fodder of adoring revivalists, archivists and folklorists, a dead, fallen tree laying in the meadow, here is a beautiful, strong new sprout from an old tree. Valerie June is a powerful folk singer who directly descends out the old traditions, not an admirer or emulator, but an unexpected, wonderful, truehearted authentic outgrowth of traditions. She is not just keeping the old music alive, this is and was always her music. The adjective “awesome” is often overused, but for this singer, it should be restored to its original meaning. This is original folk music, played as fresh and sincere as it gets.
One of the loveliest, most unique and idiosyncratic voices in the American folk-blues scene today is still largely under the radar, but not for long. Valerie June is a singer/songwriter from Memphis by way of West Tennessee, who speaks with a deep southern drawl and is destined to soon come to huge folk fame. She has yet to release a full fledged CD and for now fans need to suffice with a self-recorded live EP , “Love-n-Light”, but just wait and see. This one will be one of the most important voices in the folk blues for decades to come.
The deeply impressive young African-American singer is a startling sight. Tall, slender and strikingly beautiful, with full head of dreadlocks, she seems more like a waif-like model heading to a photo shoot for some fancy magazine, like Vanity Fair, than a folksinger. All the more surprising, almost shocking, is her deep roots repertoire and ethereal creative style. The closest comparison one could make in trying to explain it is to say “Elizabeth Cotton meets Laura Love”, but that would not do justice to describe Valerie June’s essential individuality. Directly compare her folk-essence to the genuine folk musicians like Doc Boggs, Elizabeth Cotton, Vera Hall, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Roscoe Holcomb, John Jackson, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mississippi John Hurt. When the musicologists and folklorists “discovered” these great American folk musicians, they were initially brought to young urban audiences through their field recordings, and eventually the musicians played the stages of folk festivals. Valerie June emerged from a different place and time, but she is one of the very few of her generation, if not the only, who still hold the umbilical chord directly to the source of this music.
Valerie June plays fairly rudimentary guitar, accompanying herself with simple strumming chords. One could say she’s a beginner instrumentalist. Her distinct singing style is a highly unique and untypical. Yet, she somehow adds all that up to a powerful, natural deep-roots folk style that draws heavily on old folks songs, both from the African-American and Appalachian folk song repertoire of the 19th Century, songs that lived in regional pockets of Appalachia and for the most part did not come to the attention of mainstream audiences until the Harry Smith Collection, Allan Lomax’s Library of Congress and similar collections helped trigger the 1960s folk revival. The music of Valerie June reaches deep into these traditions. She is a direct continuation of this authentic and genuine tradition. She is the real deal, vibrant and fresh with a repertoire of what she calls “Organic Moonshine Roots Music,”consisting of folk, ballads, folk songs, African-American spirituals and blues.
Her star is soon to rise. She is working toward raising $15,000 to fund her forthcoming new album with Grammy Award winning producer, Craig Street who has worked with renowned artists such as: Norah Jones, K.D. Lang, Cassandra Wilson, Charlie Sexton, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Derek Trucks, Allison Krauss, The Holmes Brothers, John Legend, and Chris Whitley.
Hopefully, she will be able to keep her deep roots and her musical purity, innocence and beauty.