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Review: Valerie June's New LP 'The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Singer-songwriter Valerie June returns with her first new studio album in four years, "The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers." Much like her previous efforts, the latest from this Tennessee-born Brooklyn-based artist echoes influences spanning musical eras and genres. Here's reviewer Oliver Wang.

OLIVER WANG: At least as far back as 2010, Valerie June has described herself as a purveyor of, quote, "organic moonshine roots music," unquote. It's as evocative a phrase now as it was then, and it continues to hold weight if for no other reason. But nothing seems to be a more fitting description for just what it is June creates whenever she spins forth a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY")

VALERIE JUNE: (Singing) Oh, I, I don't know how long I'll stay.

WANG: On her latest album, "The Moon And The Stars," June and producer Jack Splash craft her most ethereal effort yet. Its 14 songs are redolent with soft-spoken guitar melodies and shimmering studio effects, giving the album an airy, expansive feel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITHIN YOU")

JUNE: (Singing) An endless, flowing stream as if it's but a dream.

WANG: Perhaps it's apropos that the album's subtitle is "Prescriptions For Dreamers." Much like a dream is open to interpretation, the music here feels like a cypher that allows you to hear what you want to hear. Is it folk, the blues, rock, country, R&B? Sure - all that and then some or perhaps something else entirely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU AND I")

JUNE: (Singing) I hope you feel it. I hope you feel it, too.

WANG: June is a multi-instrumentalist, but what anchors the album is her strongest musical asset - her voice. I'm not saying anything new here. Ever since she broke out in 2013 with "Pushin' Against A Stone," listeners have enjoyed the pleasure of being lost in the fiddlehead fronds of June's distinctive drawl. Her voice is at once grounded and cosmic, earthy yet divine. Because the music takes on a more muted tone compared to previous LPs, June's voice is now ever more present, more insistent, more mesmerizing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL ME A FOOL")

JUNE: (Singing) Call me a fool. Call me a fool, a heart forlorn, a heart that's scorned, a new love born.

WANG: Like many people, I spent most of 2020 thinking about comfort music, the songs that kept us company while sheltering at home. Had this album come out then, it would have fit right in with its themes of introspection and self-discovery. But as the first album that I sat with in this new year, it was easy to hear within it - or perhaps project onto it - a yearning for exploration and engagement. The album nudges us to look inward, but the pull of "The Moon And The Stars" is also towards the endless outside that awaits our return.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME INSIDE")

JUNE: (Singing) I know there is a home inside.

CORNISH: Our reviewer Oliver Wang is a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and the co-host of the music interview podcast "Heat Rocks."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME INSIDE")

JUNE: (Singing) Where every dream abides - each breath is gold, a pathway, a light. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.