MIXING folk, blues, gospel and bluegrass influences, Valerie June is a singer and songwriter who boasts authentic appeal. Belfast audiences will have the opportunity to hear her when she performs at the Black Box on May 4 as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.
Born in Jackson, Tennessee, June grew up in Humboldt, learning all about Gospel music at her local church and about R&B and soul from her father. The oldest of five children, her first job as a teenager was helping her father, a promoter for gospel singers and Prince, K-Ci & Jojo and Bobby Womack, to hang posters in the town; she absorbed this rich medley of musical influences, absorbing the rhythms of gospel, soul and roots music.
June moved to Memphis in 2000 and began recording and performing at the age of 19, initially with her then husband in the duo Bella Sun.
When her marriage ended she began working as a solo artist, sensitively combining blues, gospel and Appalachian folk, in a soulful style that she describes as “organic moonshine roots music”, and learning guitar, banjo, and lap-steel guitar.
Record producer Kevin Augunas introduced June to Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, which led to the recording of June’s debut album Pushin’ Against a Stone - due for release in the UK through Sunday Best Recordings on May 6. The album was so titled to commemorate the story of her life.
June said: “I feel I’ve spent my life pushing against a stone. And the jobs I’ve had have been fitting for getting a true feel for how the traditional artists I loved came home after a hard day to sit on the porch and play tunes until bedtime.”
“With influences ranging from Sam Cooke to Stevie Nicks, June’s songs build from any number of rootsy starting points: fingerpicked folk, swinging gospel, swampy rock guitar,” says the Telegraph’s Hames Lachno of the album. “She sings doleful, first-person stories of downtrodden working life – as in the stunning single Workin’ Woman Blues – in a weathered Southern twang.”
Last year June made her UK debut playing at Bestival and appearing on Later with Jools Holland; in February she was invited to support Jake Bugg on the UK leg of his tour.
June has already released two singles from the new album - Workin’ Woman Blues and You Can’t Be Told - both soulful and compelling musical offerings - which affirm that there’s a new soul sister on the scene.
Black Box, Belfast, May 4, Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Visit cqaf.com.