Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Juna N Joey, Valerie June and Celine Ellis

Juna N Joey EP

When musicians half your age are releasing music, you start to realise the time of life you are in. In every review of this EP, brother and sister Juna and Joey will have their ages (17 and 19) mentioned, much as Zac from Hanson was ten (TEN!!) when Mmmbop came out. Country music is about truth, so this is teenage truth from the pair of them.

In 2021 I caught them when they toured the UK. They played short sets at the British Country Music Festival (BCMF) and at Omeara supporting Twinnie, where they threw in a cover of Watermelon Sugar. They also played their then-current single Something Good To Miss, which kicks off this EP. ‘Goodbyes get in the way,’ they sing, harmonising wonderfully over a poppy track.

There are two versions of the torch ballad Til Your Heart Breaks. ‘Suddenly every memory is burned in my mind’ is Joey’s opening line, as he and Juna mourn the passing of love. More Than A Maybe is a lovely meet-cute where Joey asks his belle-to-be if she’ll be ‘at the party tonight’. Conversely, I’m So Over You sees Juna flutter her way through a kiss-off, ‘not playing these games with ya’. How innocent young love is, and Juna N Joey are fine narrators.

Celine Ellis – Unravelled EP

A North Walian who makes ‘country music with attitude’, Celine Ellis played early on Saturday afternoon in Blackpool as part of the aforementioned BCMF.

The two singles from the EP, which came out in March, are both excellent and show both sides of Celine’s musical personality. Without Me is a ruminative ballad where Celine’s narrator ‘can still hear’ her former partner as she grabs her things and moves on with her life. Getaway Car is one of those driving songs with big guitar chords and lyrics about forks in the road.

‘Set fire to my heart!’ she cries on the gutsy opening track Gasoline & Matches, which is driven by a two-chord loop. Where Do You Go possesses a fine chorus with some open-throated vowel sounds that suit its uptempo instrumentation, while the softer Shadow of the Moon is full of imagery and sense impressions, as befits its title.

Valerie June – Under Cover

We know the Tennessee-born Valerie – whose father promoted acts including Bobby Womack – by her keening high voice and recognisable silhouette, but mostly because she writes fine songs. This project brings eight cover versions of some quite excellent singer/songwriters from days gone by.

Bob Dylan recorded Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You for his Nashville Skyline album on which Charlie Daniels (yep, that one) was a session musician. As often happens with Dylan, a great vocalist elevates the lyric beyond the initial version. Valerie also interprets Pink Moon by Nick Drake and Into My Arms by Nick Cave, the one which begins with a refusal to believe ‘in an interventionist God’.

Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings’ Look At Miss Ohio, which has also been covered by Miranda Lambert, is given a fine reading, as is the little-known John Lennon song where he imagines people living in peace. She turns that song into a band arrangement driven by a drum shuffle and plenty of echo on her double-tracked vocal, not dissimilar to the Mazzy Star anthem Fade Into You which she also covers.

Godspeed is a love song originally written by Frank Ocean and reinterpreted by James Blake, making Valerie’s understated version a cover of a cover (cover-squared). Joe South won Song of the Year at the GRAMMYs for Games People Play, beating two Bacharach & David compositions. His gospel-tinged tune Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home (‘we’re all God’s children’) was never a UK hit but deserves to be discovered as part of this fine set of cover versions produced by Valerie and released via her own June Tunes imprint.

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