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“First impression on hearing the music of June Star was, Sun Volt and Jay Farrar — now that can’t be bad, and you are right it isn’t.” – Americana UK
“…a little left of the alt-country center and not far from the kind of thinking man’s folk associated with the late Townes Van Zandt. Granted, Grimm’s warble takes some getting used to; there are times when he doesn’t sing so much as drone. But it’s the sort of voice that eventually gets under your skin if you listen long enough” – Washington Post
Though 2020 has been a year of noxious politics, dizzying precaution, and dispiriting inaction, anyone tapped into music culture has been thankful for artists like Baltimore-based June Star, artists without whose honesty, heartfelt storytelling, and outright kick-ass songs make the worst of times more manageable. Luckily, despite the heaviness of the moment, Andrew Grimm’s recording project June Star buoys souls with aching vocals and plaintive folk arrangements. Paired with his literature-indebted perspective, Grimm comes off like Smog-era Bill Callahan if he had chosen to dive inward or The Jayhawks if they were more keen to stark emotional realism. June Star brings a time-honored aesthetic to his unique tales of fractious love, quixotic anxiety, and the looming shadow of death.
Coming off a dizzyingly prolific run of releases – this will mark his 11th full-length record in six years – June Star’s forthcoming 2021 release How We See it Now came about by breaking through the social-emotional chokehold that 2020 strapped the world with. Though these songs were not written for or during the lockdown (for that see Grimm’s 2020 solo release A Little Heat), they were born from a flurry of creative output. Grimm holed up at Magpie Cage Studios in Baltimore, MD and culled together a ‘best of’ from his past three years worth of Bandcamp output. When he finally sat down to listen to years worth of material, these were the songs that stood out as surefire winners.
Listening through, it’s easy to hear what was so special about these twelve tracks: pedal-steel laden laments sway drunkenly next to folk-rock foot-stompers and his vocal performances ache with the same existential doubt we all feel at the moment. But where some artists wallow, June Star searches for hope. On songs like “I’m Not Afraid of the Fall” his romantic resignation comes off not like a forlorn sigh, but a deep breath, prepping himself for all the joy and pain that comes hand-in-hand with love and existence.
Grimm’s elegiac and bottom-heavy tenor opens the album by hopefully intoning, “If we get any better/Would you respond next time?” The impressionistic nature of this sentiment – both sanguine and dejected – rubs elbows with bittersweet cello and effervescent chorus-laden guitars, recalling a familiar jaded pop prowess (like if Jeff Tweedy were indebted to Johnny Marr rather than Gram Parsons). Elsewhere, the insistent thrum of the titular track disarmingly nails the marriage of modern Americana with the sticky harmonies of late-90s pop rock ala the Gin Blossoms and Old 97s. Regardless of where the needle lands, Grimm is there with his guitar and a very talented group of folk-rock musicians anchored by Dave Hadley’s expert pedal steel playing. Deftly produced by Bunky Hunt, the entire album emits a warmth not just from the traditional instrumentation, but also the way Hunt seems to capture the energy of live performance and highlight the rapturous details that make the distinction between an album and a classic clear.
Grimm, who has been plugging away on the scene with June Star since 1998, doubles as an Academic, teaching college literature courses during the day, while crafting songs in his spare time. In essence, Grimm has been producing albums since 1998, though he humbly claims that he has only mastered it in the last decade. As Grimm’s writing has matured and grown, he’s learned to focus his lyrics and narratives on the external, even going so far as to write an entire album focusing on his neighbors on 2018’s East on Green. Adopting this new ethos has engendered a myriad of songs culminating in How We See it Now, which expertly melds the lyrical punch of his literary inspirations with the down-to-earth, no bullshit naturalism of Paul Westerberg.
And while the world anticipates the return of live music with bated breath, Grimm is taking full advantage of his free time continuing to plug away at his songcraft and capturing the precarious spirit of modern times. Luckily, while the world awaits egress from hibernation, we have records like How We See it Now to suture the cracks in our collective hearts.