Valerie June, ‘Pushin’ Against a Stone’


“Pushin’ Against a Stone,” the remarkable debut by Valerie June, is the sound of an artist who carries the weight of the world in her voice but has never forgotten her roots. June grew up in Tennessee but makes music that’s hardly tethered to time, genre, or even a single mode for the way she sings. She forges an aesthetic that’s at once rural and urban, with traces of soul, country, gospel, and the blues. This is a shape-shifting album that’s ecstatic from one song to the next. The sour twang of the opening “Workin’ Woman Blues,” with June conjuring vocals you’d hear on a crackly field recording, gives way to Appalachian folk tales (“Twined and Twisted”), joyful communal hymns (“Tennessee Time”), thunderous blues-rockers (“You Can’t Be Told,” co-written with Kevin Augunas and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, both of whom also produced the record), and a celestial murder ballad (“Shotgun”). As debuts go, this is a marvel by a singer and songwriter who has no desire to fit snugly into one category. Her talent isn’t that easily contained. (Out Tuesday) James Reed

ESSENTIAL “You Can’t Be Told”