Valerie June has grown in the last four years. While her 2013 release Pushin’ Against a Stone was an anticipated splashy debut, particularly as she collaborated with Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), her new record, The Order of Time, shows an artist who has lived a bit more life, matured and had some time to reflect on it. It runs deep, mining intimate family experiences and relationships, and offers us a much softer side of June. The Order of Time has a dreamy film over it, like we’re peering through a wormhole, literally looking back in time.
Much of this record has a zen quality to it, as though June is coming to terms and living in the present. Nothing feels rushed or over-produced. The unusual beauty of her singing voice shines is not obscured or made into something it’s not. It has room to breathe and expand. The loveliest tunes are the wispiest, too. “With You” is an airy love song about deep, true love, and “The Front Door” confronts giving up and moving on in the most ethereal way. June is a bit more subdued than we’re used to in these, but her voice conveys sadness and vulnerability magnificently.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the album’s more fiery tracks, “Shakedown” and “Got Soul”, both prime for dancing, hand-clapping and foot-stomping. The former features backing vocals from June’s late father, and an infectious earworm of a guitar riff. On both, the natural Tennessee Twang in June’s voice is at its best. On “Got Soul”, June and her band incorporate organ, strings and horns into their arrangement, as it builds to a call and response sing-a-long. Lyrically it’s a simple and sweet song, but it has the album’s richest instrumentals.
Still, June finds her sweetest spot with the bluesier, sparser songs like “Love You Once Made”, an intimate breakup song that recalls the dark, lonely, and beautiful moments of a love gone by. A similar sound can be found on the two standouts “Long Lonely Road” and “Astral Plane”. In both, her voice is isolated and filled with a world-weariness that feels undeniably authentic. “Long Lonely Road” finds June remembering hard times from when she was growing up, and “Astral Plane” is a much loftier, heady musing on lightening her load and pursuing her dreams. The two songs couldn’t be more different, but showcase some of the best songwriting of her career, and seem to act as bookends for the story of The Order of Time, from her roots to her present.