Blending folk, soul, blues, and Appalachian traditional elements into a refreshingly timeless sound that sits outside any particular musical era, Valerie June stands in a long and storied line of unique performers in Memphis, a city with a still vibrant music scene even into the 21st century. The daughter of a brick cleaner from Humboldt in the flatlands of West Tennessee, June took quickly to the various local roots music styles in the area, teaching herself guitar and developing her own stylistic mix, interpreting traditional material like it was still alive and breathing, and writing her own material with an eye to the influences of passionate and socially minded songwriters like Bob Marley. She officially began performing at the age of 19 as half of the husband-and-wife duo Bella Sun (the couple released an album, No Crystal Stair, in 2004 on their own Bella Sun Music imprint), but when the marriage fell apart, June left the South and began living the life of a gypsy street musician, playing for change in bus and subway stations up and down the West Coast. She eventually returned to Tennessee, settling finally in Memphis, where she slid right into the city's active music scene. By now she had added banjo and lap steel to her musical base, and she began to draw local attention for her powerful performances, becoming a favorite at area folk festivals and workshops.
She recorded two albums, The Way of the Weeping Willow and Mountain of Rose Quartz, at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, but she really came into the national eye when she was featured, along with rappers Al Kapone, Muck Sticky, and other musicians, in the MTV web series $5 Cover (put together by Craig Brewer, the creator of the movie Hustle & Flow), which followed Memphis musicians as they scrambled to pay the rent, fall in and out of love, and yes, play music in one of the most storied musical cities in the world. The series aired early in 2009, giving June and her music a platform for wider exposure. Using the publicity from the $5 Cover series, June went on to record the 2010 EP Valerie June & the Tennessee Express with the Old Crow Medicine Show. In 2011, June raised $15,000 via the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter to help fund the recording of her next album. A move to Brooklyn from Memphis and an introduction to Dan Auerbach (the Black Keys) put into motion the recording of her third studio album, Pushin' Against the Stone. With her singles on heavy rotation on European radio and a support slot with British singer/songwriter Jake Bugg, June's popularity continued to soar with Pushin' Against the Stone, finally released in May 2013 in Europe and in the U.S. in August. ~ Steve Leggett