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New Music To Know: Valerie June Channels Her Memphis Roots, With Help From Dan Auerbach

“Who was that stunning girl in the red dress who sang the duet with Eric Church on the ACM Awards?”

That was the question that many were asking on Twitter the day after the 2012 Academy Of Country Music Awards.

That girl in the red dress who joined Church for his performance of “Like Jesus Does” was up-and-coming singer/songwriter Valerie June, who says that the red dress was one of the main reasons she took the gig.

“I listened to the song, I was crying. It was such a beautiful song!” June told Radio.com. “Then they sent a picture of the red dress. and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK I’m doing it!'”

She didn’t tell many people that she would be performing on the awards show, so when people from her hometown of Humboldt, Tennessee tuned in, they got a bit of a surprise.

“People from Humboldt…were like ‘Oh my God, I think that was Valerie!'” she said. “My Facebook and my email and my cell phone was blowing up.  And the reason why it was so cool was, we planned it to be a mystery.  It’s kind of neat that it was a surprise. People don’t get that many surprises.”

June got a surprise of her own when it came to finding collaborators for her debut album, Pushin’ Against A Stone.

One of the album’s producers, Kevin Augunas–who previously worked with Florence + The Machine–asked June who she’d like to co-write with and she had a pretty ambitious list: Gillian Welch, M. Ward and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. “They’re modern day writers that I know have a sensibility for old time roots music,” June said.

It turned out that Augunas knew Auerbach and introduced the two, who both have a taste for vintage music.  June is partial to anything recorded in the 1920s and ’30s. It’s something the Tennessee native attributes to growing up in a church that featured a lot of music.

June and the Black Keys frontman ended up writing four songs together, including the title track. He also ended up becoming a co-producer on the album.

So now that she’s written with Auerbach, is a collaboration with M. Ward or Gillian Welch in the works?

“I’ve been a few degrees away from each of them,” she said. “I shared a cab with M. Ward coming back from the Winnipeg Folk Festival.”

Her friends from Old Crow Medicine Show invited her to meet Welch after a gig once, but June declined, “You have to save some things in this life.”

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