TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Valerie June is a Tennessee-born singer-songwriter who made a splash with her 2013 album "Pushin' Against A Stone." On her latest album, "The Order Of Time," Valerie June reaches back to her roots in Southern gospel, reconciling it with her current life in Brooklyn, N.Y. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKEDOWN")
VALERIE JUNE: (Singing) Somebody, somebody, not any old body, not any old body, need you to need me, need you to want me, somebody, somebody. Get me on the shakedown...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: It's been a few years since we've heard that Valerie June voice, the high-pitched twang that toggles back and forth between crisp enunciation and a slurred drawl. On the song I just played, called "Shakedown," she's joined by two brothers and her father on backup vocals. The song builds to a rock band rave-up, but in the midst of all that, Valerie June sounds as lonely as if she was singing to herself in an empty room.
On this album, "The Order Of Time," June is especially effective when she gets that alone-in-a-room sound going. Listen to the way her voice seems to bounce off the walls of a heartbreak hotel room on a song called "If And."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF AND")
JUNE: (Singing) Some things in life happen too slow. Sometimes you don't know which way to go. One thing for sure, one thing that's real - if and you ain't loving your woman then someone else will.
TUCKER: Elsewhere, June's voice takes a slow crawl away from the wreckage of a romance on the song "Love You Once Made." Beginning with just vocal and bass, the melody is soon joined by an organ and drums. An electric piano flutters around June's voice as she sings about a faded love that always threatens to loom up in front of her, the memory newly fresh and painful.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE YOU ONCE MADE")
JUNE: (Singing) You can leave knowing you did all you could. You could've said 10,000 words, done all the things that you should. Time's hands turned to point straight your way, a memory faded to death of a love you once made. There were the nights...
TUCKER: Born in Tennessee in the early '80s, listening to gospel music in her church and getting exposed to soul, blues and rock from her music promoter father, Valerie June moved to Memphis to start her performing career playing guitar and banjo as well as singing.
A few years ago, she relocated to Brooklyn. But that hasn't turned her into a jaded hipster. Just listen to the glowing wonder she brings to "Astral Plane." It's a song that treats the spiritual and the mystical as being as substantial as the guitar she strums.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASTRAL PLANE")
JUNE: (Singing) Is there a light you have inside you can't touch? A looking glass can only show you so much. Follow the signs, slowly but steady, don't rush. The day will come when you are ready, just trust. Dancing on the astral plane in holy water, cleansing rain...
TUCKER: One of my favorite songs on this album is "Just In Time." It sounds like a New York piece of music. Its beat might have been lifted from The Shangri-Las girl group, its violin and cello, a minimalist version of a Phil Spector production, her voice the sound of a solo doo-wop act.
The title "Just In Time" quickly takes on an added meaning, wiping away the distance between different decades of music to make the song seem of its time and timeless.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST IN TIME")
JUNE: (Singing) Take my breath away. And you put me down, teach me how to play again. When I thought my heart had fallen with the rain, you taught me how to love again. Your sweet eyes, they don't lie. And your healing touch put my doubt aside. I open my heart...
TUCKER: "Just In Time," the album title "The Order Of Time," June's sense of time as fluid and multidimensional is all over this collection. It's something close to what science-fiction writers call a time slip, a notion she gets at on a soul ballad here called "Slip Slide On By."
Yet for all this, Valerie June resists becoming too airy or ethereal. She also understands the way certain pop genres, certain ways to phrase and shape a lyric, can break and mend a heart at the same time.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed "The Order Of Time" by singer-songwriter Valerie June.
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, punk rocker Laura Jane Grace will talk with us about how transitioning from male to female affected her music, her fans, her marriage, her daughter and her own identity. Grace is the founder of the band Against Me. Last year, she burned her birth certificate at a concert in North Carolina saying, goodbye, gender. I hope you'll join us.
Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.