4 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Since 2010, the North Carolina trio Red June has become increasingly well-regarded within acoustic Americana and folk music circles for their warm three-part harmonies, insightful writing, and compelling musicianship.
Ancient Dreams is their third album, and first with outside label support. While their previous albums were in many ways spectacular (consider, as example, Remember Me Well‘s “Biscuits and Honey” and “McKinney Blues” or Beauty Will Come‘s “Cloud of Dust” and “Soul’s Repair”), Ancient Dreams sees the band taking steps forward to further define their space within an increasingly crowded artistic marketplace.
Red June—Will Straughan, Natalya Weinstein, and John Cloyd Miller—combine traditions of southern roots music—country, old-time, and bluegrass—with influences from Weinstein’s classical music background and the vocal precision of the folk-pop world.
Working with producer Tim Surrett (who doubles on upright bass), the trio have maintained their penchant for creating original songs that could emanate from no other roots outfit. Red June, in the course of three albums over five years, have defined their sound. And it is a wonderful one.
Straughan’s “Black Mountain Night” has evocative lyrics (“I swear as I look down, from this mountain on that town, For a moment, everything’s alright”) from which genuine emotion is wrung.
Miller’s “Where We Started” examines the cyclical nature of relationships, and his “I Still Wait”—sung with Weinstein—is an acceptance of the fleeting connections made when one is firmly committed to a personal existence.
Their vocal mastery is ably demonstrated throughout the album’s eleven songs, perhaps never more so than within “I Am Free,” the album’s a cappella centerpiece. Straughan’s resonator contributions never overwhelm the blend of natural vocal harmony the three share; rather, the guitar’s mournful notes accentuate the intensity of this seemingly organic connection. Similarly, Weinstein’s fiddle complements the sparse instrumental canvas the band utilizes.
A pair of instrumentals—“31″ and “Gabriel’s Storm”—provide ample evidence that Red June is a multi-dimensional band worth a listen for many reasons.
Red June’s Ancient Dreams serves as more than a calling card from an emerging artistic collaboration. It is a formidable achievement, attuned to modern approaches in the creation of timeless sounds.