ALBUM IN A SENTENCE: A big hearted, big sounding, big souled record for big dreamers.
Valerie June’s new album The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers reminds me again of one of the most important conversations in my life.
Half a life ago, I was talking with a friend over a problem they were having. Being a wide-eyed, full-gospel Christian, I offered to pray for them. That was fine, a good thing in the context and the problem eventually resolved itself, but my friend commented they could never imagine having the kind of faith that would pray for people. That conversation changed me. I’d grown up believing that people changed in light of knowing the facts. But they don’t. People tend to grow towards what they are able to imagine.
The Moon and Stars in Valerie June’s universe are held together by the gravitational pull of the imaginative life, even as she recognises that often it is the dreamers who are the most heartsick. For the ones who hurt as they choose to embark on the lonely road to the better place they know deep down exists, Valerie June has got medicine. This is an album of comfort and encouragement to stick at growing the kind of big-hearted character needed to hold onto hope in a harsh world.
In a recent interview, Valerie June said:
‘We were born dreamers… We’re born with those dreams and hopes for the world. And society wants to keep us so busy and far away from that magical imagination side of ourselves.NPR World Cafe, 16th March, 2021.
The Moon and Stars is the opposite of an album in a hurry. The approach taken is typified by the minute long ‘Stay Meditation’. A different artist may describe this as an extended coda to the single ‘Stay’, but here is given full track status. Scott Klarman’s flute solo floats across the top of layers of keys and the listener is invited to stay in the moment, not mentally prepare for the next song on the album. Slow down. Tune in. Forget busy-ness. Dream.
As the album unfolds, what comes to the forefront is Valerie June’s inventive use and blending of genre. The Moon and Stars draws on country, soul, 60’s girl groups and trap beats, blurring the generic edges with a woozy psychedelia. Her sound has grown in all directions from previous albums. Valerie June and co-producer Jack Splash, coupled with a full orchestra of collaborators, are capable of creating a speaker-shaking wall of sound on tracks like the single ‘Call Me A Fool’ that write an essay in boldly re-imagining singing the blues. For British ears, there is some kind of distant family connection between Valerie June and Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, another artist who specialises in reinvigorating classic genres, quiet/loud dynamics and the metaphor of music as medicine.
Valerie June makes music that could well be described as timeless. That’s quite a loaded term. It’s not sustainable anymore in the way that it could be applied to artists such as Diana Ross or Nina Simone, both of whose influence can be found in the mix of The Moon and Stars. Who can tell in a culture glut which contemporary artists will be listened to by future generations?
However, it works in the sense that The Moon and the Stars is a testament to the human need for timelessness; the intimate experiences where the clock slows to a halt, the time governed by moon and stars, the moments that envision and embolden us. Every song on this album carries vision distilled from these moments back into a culture that is time-struck. In our clockwork reality, the visions of ‘Stardust Scattering’ belong to a better country far away and boldness seems dangerously close to fading. But if this album has a prescription for dreamers, it’s to keep dreaming, keep choosing, keep jumping with both feet, keep failing, keep open to the next thing, keep singing. It’s not easy, but Valerie June is on the right road. We all need an imaginative faculty strong enough to keep us on the road to meaningful growth and change.