June Star’s new release East on Green was produced by Andy Bopp, mixed by J. Robbins at Magpie Cage Recording Studio, and is the band’s 15th release. East on Green accomplishes the rare feat of combining contradictions. It’s a direct and emotionally uneasy, but somehow simultaneously comforting, contribution to the Americana music catalogue. Lyrically, the songs confront painful elements of the human experience, but the degree of distress is juxtaposed with reassuring guitar (and sometimes fiddle) tones, harmonious melodic styles and rhythms, while front man Andrew Grimm’s vocal qualities emote secure resignation. Grimm writes all the lyrics, which are unmistakable poetry, and his vocal register flirts with the minor key and at times achieves a more guttural, gritty growl. June Star includes Andy Bopp on electric 6 and 12 string, and organ too; with Katie Feild on acoustic guitar and vocals adding a thoughtful sincere quality, and a guest appearance by Greta Thomas on violin. Rhythm section Cody Harrod and Kurt Celtnieks hold down the Americana alt-country beat. J. Robbins contributes too, and Katie Feild crafted the cover art.
Breaking with ordinary album format, the project draws the audience in to have a unified listening experience in a novel way; every alternate track is a small clip recorded from a police scanner, bridging in between traditional song tracks. The clips set the stage by displaying the baser side of humanity, with dispatcher reports such as “she’s having trouble with her husband, he locked her out of the house” stated in deadpan tones of resignation.
“Break” opens with a heartbreaking violin intro by Thomas, and more poignancy unfolds as Grimm sings “your luck’s been running out for some time, and as it closes the door, it’s looking you in the eye,” over plucked banjo. “Hang On” is an instant standout, and the album’s centerpiece, with its lines “hang on, you’re sinking fast, I’m nowhere near you now, hang on,” again showcases Grimm’s keen ability to tap into the painful aspects of human relationships while highlighting his refined guitar skills. “Spin” features Katie Feild in a vocal duet singing about “that same old spin” in a juxtaposition of pretty music, beautiful entwining vocals, and depressing outlooks. “Loneliest” similarly features Feild and Grimm: “Find someone who’s lonely too, go make her lonelier than you” where Feild’s vocals add a gracious dreamlike quality to Grimm’s gritty earthy ones. “Tomorrow,” “I know all your secrets girl, just as long as you let me in, I will never tell,” once more recreates the sense of genuine angst, the risks of relationship and simple honesty, while “Let’s Get Out,” showcases the licks and thoughtful guitar spaces June Star is known for.
You’d be hard pressed not to assume this band is a distant cousin of Son Volt’s, but with significantly more lyrical depth. Grimm clearly has a second calling as a poet. Read our earlier show review, by clicking the bolded word here.
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