Valerie June is one of those artists who is always full of surprises. Her breakthrough recording, Pushing Against a Stone (2013), was a decidedly folky, banjo-driven outing. But, over the course of the two albums that have succeeded it—particularly on 2021’s dreamy, meditative The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers—she has moved in a more ethereal direction.
There is a sense in her more recent work that Valerie June knows things the rest of us could not possibly. That she sees and understands things on a whole different level than is typically achieved in folk music, especially. Likely, she simply trusts her own curiosity and intuition. There is, after all, a sacredness to both.
So it is with great interest that a fan might dig into Under Cover (out August 26 via Fantasy Records), a new EP featuring covers of songs June handpicked and reimagined. Though not every track is an exacting hit on its own, taken together the collection is a telling view into the musical psyche of one of the most interesting individuals wielding music these days.
The Nick Drake classic “Pink Moon” has almost a parlor tune vibe, driven by clear, direct piano and June’s otherworldly vocals. Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” is speckled with pedal steel and a folk gui-ish guitar rhythm.
With Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio,” June sings it like someone gossiping on the porch. Slowly, over the course of the song, that gossip turns to a certain sad, longing jealousy, as opposed to Welch’s approach, which feels more in the vein of an internal monologue.
June’s turn on Joe South’s “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home,” retains some of the campy 70’s vibe of the original (jazz flute, anyone?) but it’s dressed in a more Bourbon Street-style swag.
It is an easy highlight, but pales in comparison to Nick Cave’s emotional, haunting, nuanced “Into My Arms.” Accompanied only by piano, June is nearly alone here with her vocals and artistic intuition. Ruminative throughout, the song ends like a puff of smoke left to hang in the air, barely illuminated. You just want to sit still until it dissipates.
Under Cover is available HERE.