Valerie June wants to be on your mind; to get inside your head. She writes or co-writes songs that mix blues, gospel, folk and soul, and which describe emotional isolation, financial deprivation and insecurity about her place in the world. She's unafraid to proclaim her neediness — perhaps because, possessed of a powerful voice, she knows that her vulnerability isn't likely to come off as passive or self-pitying on Pushin' Against a Stone.
If you're like me, you probably feel exhausted just thinking about how much cultural stuff is out there. A friend recently told me he was reading an acclaimed Hungarian novelist whose books I've never opened. "Please tell me he stinks," I begged, "so I don't have to read him."
"Actually, he's great," came the reply, and I groaned. This was something I didn't want to know.
Piper Kerman was a 24-year-old Smith College graduate in 1993, when she flew to Belgium with a suitcase of money intended for a West African drug lord.
This misguided adventure started when she began a romantic relationship with a woman who was part of what Kerman describes as a "clique of impossibly stylish and cool lesbians in their mid-30s." That woman was involved in a drug-smuggling ring, and got Kerman involved, too, though Kerman left that life after several months.
Record producer Huey P. Meaux's career was, to put it mildly, a checkered one. It had two chapters, each of which ended with him in prison. But both times, he discovered some amazing Texas and Louisiana artists who made great music. Researchers are still piecing together the first half of the story, which saw hundreds of singles released on labels like Jet Stream, Tear Drop, Jet, Pacemaker and Eric. Now some of those songs have been collected on a compilation called South Texas Rhythm 'n' Soul Revue.