Red June: Ancient Dreams – album review
Red June: Ancient Dreams (Organic)
Red June’s third album is a masterclass in organic roots Americana, resplendent in velvet three-part harmonies, an effortless fusion of old and new.
My apple of choice is, of course, English with the occasional Pink Lady out of season. That Red June chose their name from an heirloom variety of apple is no surprise as they are of the earth, in harmony with the months and seasons and represent a strand of organic American roots music that, as surely as night follows day, is timeless and enduring.
I first heard them via my favourite internet radio station – North Carolina’s Wrecking Ball Radio. The station is a goldmine of new and old Americana nuggets curated by Jayson Tanner, who seems to have the knack of uncovering under the radar artists, especially those, like Red June, who work hard to be heard outside the States. He has a real ear for intelligent music, the kind that has something to say and which does not simply seek to replicate the past.
So I often ask myself why I connect with American folk music more than I do with my native English. For a start, it’s a wider genre that draws on more influences and styles to the extent that ‘Americana’ has become the somewhat lazy catch-all. Red June are a case in point – a three-piece from North Carolina who seem to effortlessly mine the bluegrass and country seam of vintage American music and inject an immediacy and modernity which is faithful yet ever so slightly subversive.
For a band to successfully invent these days, it has to dive into the grey areas and come out with an interpretation which takes the listener on a different journey to the one they were expecting. Red June’s latest album – Ancient Dreams – is a fully formed example of just that, a beguiling yet deceptive re-modelling of an ancient formula, laden with harmonies and attitude.
The main instruments are acoustic guitars, dobro, mandolin and fiddle – no percussion, not even a hint of electricity. Red June are about the vocal harmonies, the split second perfect coming together of three voices it’s impossible to unpick. The songs are largely optimistic ruminations on the passage of time, a journey towards somewhere and characters met along the way. It may not be an actual journey, there is more than a hint of an upward spiritual path followed to…somewhere.
I Am Free is an acapella hymn that stops the heart with its beauty, a contemplation in beguiling three part harmonies that needs no adornment:-
“I am free from earthly burdens/ I am free from suffering and sin/ Free to hear the angels sing.”
Light Of Day brings to mind the sweetest moments of CSN as the complex vocals combine with a fragile harmony over the fiddle and guitar. It may be the album’s highlight, certainly a song with a hook and a chorus that many musicians would seek to overplay. Here, everything speaks for itself, understated yet more powerful in its modesty.
Unsurprisingly, Red June take inspiration from their pastoral surroundings and at times this album is pure, pure country. The songs are short and the message is simple – enjoy your life and the day you’re living in before it’s too late. The trio of Will Straughan, Natalya Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller play and sing like this music is in their blood, but with a playfulness and lightness that liberates it from any overt sense of seriousness.
Where We Started is an effortless rumination on acceptance:-
“She’s in the same old place where we started…
Guess I gotta keep believing
Me and the boys gonna work it out
It’s Friday night and talk is cheaper
Down here the dreams are stronger than the doubts,”
I’m not sure what Red June’s grand plan is, or if there is one. Formed in 2005 this is their third album and they seem to tour the US relentlessly. In a chaotic world, I take great comfort that bands like this exist, with a simple plan to make music that comes from the heart, back to the earth, stripped of any embellishment. Such bands are very brave – allowing music this honest to speak for itself takes plenty of guts.
You’ll probably hear Red June before you get the opportunity to eat one (see video below). Even as the month approaches, air miles will probably mean the Pink Lady is more readily available.