The singer/songwriter/banjo-er Valerie June plays "organic moonshine roots" music — a mix of country, blues, folk, gospel, bluegrass, soul — and her debut studio album, Pushin' Against a Stone, is available now on iTunes. It's the best record I've heard this year.
I wrote about her for the New York Times Magazine yesterday (two songs are streaming there), but here's a couple vaguely music-related details that didn't make into the story, in case anyone's interested (she's also on Twitter!): A week after we first talked, I met up with her in the Williamsburg apartment she shares with her husband, Farkas Fülöp, a video projection artist. I’d been nervous that her home would be as intimidatingly cool as her general vibe, but it was bright and welcoming, maybe a little cluttered and under-air-conditioned, like mine. We drank berry iced tea out of Mason jars, ate oat bars, strawberries, and peaches that she sliced, and talked about families, kids, health insurance. I’d been trying to figure out how old she was — Wikipedia said she was born in 1982, which would make her either 30 or 31, so I asked, and she gently but dismissively gave me an answer I’ve seen her give elsewhere: that she’s 82 years old, and both “old and young.” (She is, in fact, 31.)
After a pause in the conversation, I asked her about the three stem-looking things that were floating in a tiny vase in the middle of her [pretty, wooden] kitchen table. She laughed, and indicated I should follow her into the bedroom, where she pulled a vintage botanical cardboard sign off the front of one of her and her husband's many immaculately organized and wall-mounted tins. “Baby Toes,” it read, over a picture of a green potted plant of rounded, tightly clustered fronds. Altogether, the fronds looked like the tip of a tiny, pointed foot extending from the ground. “Oh my god,” I said. She cackled. “Right!?”
She then brought me to her most plant-filled window, where a Baby Toes plant (real name: Fenestraria) was growing on the sill, and told me that she’d recently closed the shutters too quickly, “severing” three of its “toes,” which she’d then gathered and saved in the small vase I’d noticed. Next she showed me a pile of old songbooks and books about music that she’d just bought from a used book store in D.U.M.B.O., including "All Our Lives, A Women’s Songbook (1976),” which included amazing old photos of super chilled-out, awesome-looking women, and songs, with their lyrics.
It was almost surreally perfect — do people really just stumble upon piles of old books about their job (passion?) that they then show to visitors in stacks beside their excellently odd plants? But she’d bookmarked a page in "All Our Lives," and after showing me the title (“I’ll Not Marry At All,” a folk song by Peggy Seeger), she read the touching and amusing lyrics aloud.* Then she handed me a book of Irish ballads from the same haul, one of which she'd noticed was called “I Will Never Marry.” It didn’t have the same lyrics, and she can’t read music, so neither of us was sure of the tunes, but she’d been charmed by the similarities, and so was I. Although I’d (embarrassingly, maybe subsoncsiously) been looking for clues that her coolness was at all false or had otherwise been manufactured, she never seemed anything other than genuinely warm and thoughtful during our time together. Twice she thanked me explicitly for spending my time with her. She also apologized at one point for putting on a pair of beat-up “stinky” slip-on Skechers as we headed out the door.
Anyway, everyone should go listen to her! She's also ridiculously beautiful, not that it matters.
*“I’ll not marry a man that’s rich, he’ll get drunk and fall in a ditch. And I’ll not marry at all, at all. I’ll not marry at all. … I’ll not marry a man that’s poor, he’d have me begging from door to door. I’ll not marry a man that’s old, his face gets wrinkled, his love gets cold. I’ll not marry a man that’s young, his wavering heart and perlathering tongue. I’ll not marry a man that’s fat, he’ll just sit and kick at the cat. I’ll not marry a man that’s thin, he ain’t nothing but bones and skin. I’ll not marry one man at all, I’ll stay home and favor them all.”