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For Valerie June, not fitting into a box works just fine

City Winery, Boston, June 14, 2023

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Valerie June is not an artist that is easy to categorize, and that probably suits the Tennessee just fine. A little bit blues, soul, folk and country. And more than a bit of a goofball personality wise, although that suits her well.

Valerie June, who flew solo, more than filled the stage at the packed club over the course of 85 minutes. With a colorful outfit and her wild, up do, Valerie June was most rewarding when she doled out the blues and soulful numbers ("Call Me a Fool," a song recorded with her godmother, Carla Thomas, and one of the best blues numbers of the night). She was razor sharp when she played slide guitar on a few consecutive numbers, particularly "Where You Been So Long?"

A few of the mid-tempo selections lacked the bite of the more uptempo, harder-edged songs.

Valerie June's voice is unique especially when she goes for her high-pitched vocal style. For some, Valerie June's vocal style would be an acquired taste.

The night wasn't only about music. Valerie June. In 2021, she published a book, "Maps for the Modern World," a collection of poems, art and various thoughts about life. Valerie June interspersed her songs with excerpts from the book, giving a different insight into the performer.

While serious at times, such as when she talked about helping a close friend of hers in her dying days due to cancer, Valerie June's ultra-buoyant personality was on display most of the time. She referenced songs coming to her, sometimes in dreams in a cosmic cowboy kind of way.

Valerie June encored with one of her best songs, "Somebody to Love," showing not only her musical chops, but her goofiness. She threw on a pink robe over her outfit and brought out a baby banjoele, which was the subject of her children's book, "Somebody to Love: The Story of Valerie June's Sweet Little Baby Banjolele." A fitting way to end the night.

It should come as no surprise that Valerie June sang Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." Not only did she put her own musical stamp on the chestnut – slowing it down even more than the original with more of a singer/songwriter vocal approach – but the message underscored Valerie June's positivity. "Very positive. People tell me that," Valerie June said after reading her poem "The High and the Low."

And with her instrumental dexterity, vocal diversity and engaging, fun personality, Valerie June proved that not fitting into a musical box is what makes her a unique talent.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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