REVIEW: Valerie June Releases Delights With New ‘Under Cover’ EP
Valerie June has spent the past 20 years crafting a sound that is uniquely hers: a blues-infused Americana elevated to the astral plane. On her latest EP, Under Cover, June re-imagines songs that have influenced her in this same image.
Her selection of tracks — eight in total — is eclectic. Frank Ocean, Bob Dylan, and Gillian Welch are among some of the influential artists she chose to cover for the project. While June's influences may span entire eras and genres, each track stands as an example of expert songwriting, mirroring qualities found in the Tennessee native's own original material.
The EP opens with a sublime rendition of Nick Drake's career-defining track "Pink Moon." June's reimagined version was released earlier this year as part of the deluxe edition of her critically-acclaimed album, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers.
From there, June ventures into Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You." She stays faithful to the original song's composition, yet makes it her own through her one-of-a-kind intonations. June brings this same alchemy to "Look at Miss Ohio." The simple chorus, penned by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, acts as a musical playground for June's vocals. Within the sonic landscape she paints, the beauty queen may very well be taking her rag top 'round the rings of Saturn instead of the Ohio backroads.
Listening to June often feels like a spiritual experience. While her cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" may seem like an obvious contender for the album's cosmic center, it arrives instead through her version of Frank Ocean's "Godspeed." While the original rises with the grand sound of organs, June parses the track down to a simple piano and her own voice. It's a natural fit for June; like many of her own originals, "Godspeed" is brimming with generosity in its lyrics.
June's blues-country influences are most apparent on her covers of Joe South's "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" and Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You." Unlike other tracks on the EP, these songs are far from stripped down. The full glory of June's multi-instrumental talents is on display.
For the final track, June revisits Nick Cave's songbook once more, taking on his 1997 ballad "Into My Arms." She handles the song with reverence and a sense of poetry, accompanied by sweeping piano once again. The cover — like the EP itself — is an exploration of beauty, and a fitting close to June's collection of imaginative interpretations.