Two twangy charmers -- newcomer Valerie June and veteran Rodney Crowell – rewarded crowds this weekend in separate concerts at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.
First, newbie June. She performed for a mere 65 minutes on Saturday but she was hard to resist. Raised in Tennessee but having lived in New York City for the past two years, she hasn’t lost her accent or her down-home charm even if she looked a bit uptown with her copper lame short skirt, beige blouse, turquoise cowgirl boots, chunky and sparkly necklace, rhinestone headband and thick, long dreadlocks.
June’s music melded gospel, blues,folk, soul and Appalachian with a front-porch vibe. Working solo on guitar (acoustic and electric) and banjo (with an electronic porch pad for an occasional foot-generated rhythm track), she played several tunes from her Dan Auerbach-produced debut album, “Pushin’ Against a Stone,” which comes out on Tuesday.
June also offered several other originals not on her album, a couple of blues standards, including “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and “Irene Goodnight,” as an encore.
With a thin, reedy voice that suggested Dolly Parton with more soul and less vibrato, June, 30ish, had a girlish quality to her singing, though the messages of her lyrics about love gone wrong and right were very adult.
Highlights included “Somebody To Love” delivered with a baby banjo; “Where You Been So Long” with nasty slide guitar, and the spiritual, rural blues “Shotgun,” featuring her frantic slide guitar for which she wore a long scarf on her long, thin fingers in order to make sure the steel slide fit on her pinkie.
Already a star in England, June was disarmingly fresh and retro at the same time. Can’t wait to see her again with backup musicians.
On Friday, Crowell, 63, brought two ace pickers with him, Will Kimbrough
and Guthrie Trapp
. They added the right emotion to many of the selections in the nearly two-hour set.
A stellar songwriter who has had his own share of hit country recordings mostly in the 1980s, Houston-bred Crowell surveyed his career, from the first original piece he was proud of (“Till I Gain Control Again,” which sounds like his attempt to write a Kristofferson song) to his 2011 collaboration with memoirist/poet Mary Karr (“God I’m Missing You”) to a new tune about his desire to speak to Leonard Cohen (a minor-key tune that sounded like Cohen).
He even offered his early ”Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” (which the Oak Ridge Boys turned into a No. 1 country hit), a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and his Cherry Bombs’ novelty that he co-wrote with Vince Gill, “It’s Hard To Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long.” The highlight, though, was “Ridin’ Out the Storm,” with one great line after another.
Rodney Crowell / Associated Press photo by Mark Humphrey