Valerie June’s major label debut Pushin’ Against a Stone was hailed as a one of the best albums of 2013, and her follow-up The Order of Time carries and expands the weight of that acclaim. The Order of Time continues June’s fusion of a diverse set of influences into a modern eclectic style. The title defines the album’s driving force as time and the joys, heartbreaks, and pain one naturally encounters in life. Lyrics explore those elements, and June’s unique vocals stands as strong as on her debut, but the rhythmic background and integration of a strong series of organ performances creates a sonic quality for time that personifies the album’s theme.
A stronger solo effort than Pushin’ Against a Stone, on this album June confidently expresses herself in a similar fashion, and brings her family in as backing performers to perfectly illustrate the album’s theme and the areas in one’s life impacted by time. Her father, Emerson Hockett, and brothers, Patrick and Jason Hockett, provide vocals on the album, while the songs grow in presence and volume to illuminate the ebbs and flows of life’s intersections with time. Opener “Long Lonely Road” and closing track “Got Soul” subtly document achievements captured in a lifetime, with the latter a growing in intensity hymnal backed first by muted drums and guitar and the latter a loud, raucous, rocker, full of organ, guitar, drums, and horns. Both songs reflect on the “order of time”; only the opener hasn’t experienced what the closer follows.
The organ stands out immediately on “Love You Once Made” and its presence grows across the entirety of the album. Its use throughout provides a strong musical component, while also illuminating the external capability of time as part of life and at once outside the control of life. On “Shake Down” and later on “Two Hearts,” the organ functions in vastly alternate modes. “Shake Down” is the first rocking, loud track on the album, and the organ is upbeat and moving along, but “Two Hearts” documents the realization that time has passed and things end, and the organ performs a hymn with June’s vocals, and hints at potential beyond loss and conclusion. June mastery of the blues as a stylistic foundation for the entire album occurs on “If And” and “Man Done Wrong” with lyrics and arrangement rooted in the blues, a southern (June was born in Tennessee) sensibility, and feelings of loss and recovery.
Everyday activities and home permeate the lyrics to document the feelings derived from the theme of time. June sings that a “friend dropped by but could not stay” in “Man Done Wrong”, calling to an unfulfilled dream or hopes for love and kinship. Loss flows out of her delivery in “The Front Door”,and she opens with the line: “How does it feel to know that you can’t go on anymore?” A stylistically shifting slide guitar does not completely reset the mood in this track, with lyrics that follow stating: “Take what’s mine, love can be so unkind …”; but, the guitar hints at recovery by looking within. This idea occurs immediately with “Astral Plane”, the album’s first single, and a song about looking inward even if you are blind to what you are seeking.
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The mystical influences of June’s lyrics are brought out in “Astral Plane”, a stand out on The Order of Time, and obviously referential to the album’s themes. Recovery emerges from this track and this idea permeates much of the remaining tracks on The Order of Time. “Just in Time” and “With You” comment on the pairing in a relationship and the joys that brings into life and influence of love over time. A strong organ arrangement on “Slip Slide on By” recreates the frustration of time and regret with loss, but pushes ahead with a confidence affects by the mood presented in the preceding tracks. June’s lyrics return to a hopeful quality in this track: “Sometime I get the feeling, that I might be with you tomorrow.” Where the album started with a feeling of solitude, the influence of others is presented strongly by “Slip Slide on By,” before it is shattered completely by loss due to time on “Two Hearts.”
Valerie June follows-up a highly regarded debut with a stronger, tighter set of songs around the theme of time and its passing. The Order of Time is unique and presents a confident and dynamic songwriter and performer with a rich background in stylistic and regional influences. Time is conclusive, and June documents feeling its impact thoroughly on The Order of Time, using her musicianship and vocal delivery to explore love, loss, heartbreak, music, and time.
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