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Valerie June at Santa Monica Pier's Twilight Concerts 8/3/17. Photo by Johanna Vanderspool (@JoJoVanders) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Valerie June at Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Concerts 8/3/17. Photo by Johanna Vanderspool (@JoJoVanders) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

Santa Monica, CA- The first time I heard of Valerie June was recently in June 2017 while I was visiting a friend in London. She rotated in his iTunes and I became addicted. The song was Workin’ Woman Blues off the album, “Pushin’ Against a Stone”. Her song is soulful and the lyrics “I been workin’ all my life,” and “Lord you know, I am ready for my sugar, my sugar daddy,” resonated deeply within me; not because I want a sugar daddy but because it feels like the plight of every woman to work as hard as we do. The trumpets soon followed, chanting like a chorus and plugging a steady groove. I played this song incessantly. So when I had the opportunity to see and review Valerie June live at Santa Monica’s Twilight Series on August 3rd, 2017, I volunteered immediately.

Concerts on the Santa Monica Pier are quite lovely. Crowds form on the beach to listen with their blankets, picnic baskets and BYO-everything. The audience on the dock have free range to beer and wine bars and various pier games. On the horizon is usually a breath-taking view of a sunset, as the ferris wheel spins and glows in neon colors. The Pacific Ocean cools everyone down, as fans scramble to the front barricade to grab a very cozy view of the musicians.

As a contributing writer, you’re often supposed to do research before you attend a concert or at least have enough knowledge of the musician(s) to create an appropriate review. However, I didn’t do much research this evening. I wanted to enjoy being a new fan and hoped I would learn a lot about Valerie from her music or on-stage persona. Wow, I certainly did…because going to a Valerie June concert means you’re inundated with personal, funny, spiritual and meaningful stories in between songs. As a southern African American gal from Memphis,Tennessee, who now lives in New York City, Valerie is a mix of genres in personality and in her music. Her melodies remind me of Appalachian bluegrass country (very Dolly Parton-esque), but with a twist of folk Bohemian rock with classical soul infused together. Her singing has a twang. She plays banjo, tambourine and acoustic guitar. Her hair is in dreads and falls all over her shoulders and arms. She wears bohemian chic dresses with silver and gold sequences. She’s girly with a giggle and giant smile, but has a no-nonsense attitude about her. She’s opinionated and has no qualms letting you know where she stands on matters of the heart. She tells you a funny quip about rural farm life then shares a new-agey quote about manifesting your dreams. Her music isn’t that much different.

Songs like Man Done Wrong, Love You Once Made, You Can’t Be Told, Twined and Twisted, Wanna Be On Your Mind and The Hour offer what’s at stake for her in love and loss. Her songs are often wistful, similar to sharing a story from long ago. There’s a twinge of sadness but also hope.

While Valerie June’s pianist, guitarist, bassist and drummer were top notch, it was Valerie’s voice, lyrics and stories that held everyone’s attention. Vocally, she has a high register and sometimes it feels like her voice is crying. Yet at other times, she howls with dramatic effect to over-exaggerate the drama in a comedic way; especially when it comes to double meaning lyrics like “a memory faded to dust of a love you once made” and “no question why, you just slip slide on, you slip slide on by.” She seems to know the double edge sword of life. With love there is pain and…laughter.

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