Review Summary: An absolute triumph of psychedelic Memphis soul.The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers
is an absolute triumph of psychedelic Memphis soul. Valerie June is one of the few Black women currently prominent in Americana music and her newest release finds its place right towards the top of a recent crop of excellent albums in the genre. The Moon and Stars
perfectly embodies what Americana music should be, namely a celebration of American music. Valerie June brings forth an amalgamation of genres and styles, from hole-in-the wall bar piano stylings, R&B soul that wouldn’t be out of place on Top 40 radio to, a sense of sixties psychedelia, and a healthy dose of gospel, all tied together with a pairing of Afrobeat and Appalachian sensibilities - And that’s all in the first sixty seconds of opening track “Stay”.
The fact that June was able to make a cohesive album with all of the influences on display is a testament in and of itself. This isn’t an album where every song encompasses a different style. Instead, each track is an exploration of genre bending excellence. “Colors” could be a beautiful-but-standard acoustic folk ballad, occasional banjo and all, but is paired with a beautiful string arrangement, harp highlights, and a steady electric drum beat that is found in the boyfriend country of the day, but somehow manages to add to the song as opposed to just being incredibly grating. “Colors” is followed by “Stardust Scattering”, which sees decades old psychedelic pop influences come to the forefront, both musically and lyrically. The dancing between genres is masterful and each song is tied together deliciously well, whether it’s through otherworldly, bohemian themes or June’s stunning vocals.
These vocals are most clearly allowed to shine on the album’s best track, “Call Me a Fool”. This is where the classic Memphis influence is clearest, made even stronger by the backing vocals of living Memphis legend Carla Thomas (who also reads an African Proverb leading into the song). “Call Me a Fool” has a standard backing of organ, strings, and drums, that builds into a powerhouse performance, led by June’s vocals. Her unique timbre that is on display throughout The Moon and Stars
goes from guttural belts directly into a falsetto, with a range of dynamics and emotions in between. Put simply, the song is huge
. Follow-up track “Fallin’” is hushed, just June and a guitar, making both it and its predecessor even more impactful. The track ordering creates what can be a discombobulated feeling at first, with the upbeat pop track “Smile” being the third song in this mid-album run, but the bouncing around ultimately becomes a strength of the record, as the listener’s attention is constantly reined back in.
“Two Roads” is June’s return to the clear Americana sphere. It begins as a soft, soulful number, although the steel pedal doesn’t take long to make its appearance. The song is a meditation on the classic Robert Frost poem, a swaying to-and-fro reflection on past decisions. “Two Roads” highlights the pure strength of June’s songwriting, as the panache that she mastered doesn’t disappear even in the relative simplicity of the song. Whether it’s the quiet meditation of “Two Roads” or “Fallin’” or the wild abandon of “You and I” and “Call Me a Fool”, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers
is absolute divine, a sonic vehicle that can take you from a dance floor to a wooded forest floor in a matter of seconds. The album closes with “Starlight Ethereal Silence”, an ambient track that centers you, takes you to an Appalachian night sky, and prepares you to press play once again so you can once again experience the journey that June has prepared.