June Star are named after a character in Flannery O’Connor’s short story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find. The Baltimore roots-rock crew, currently a trio consisting rust-voiced frontman Andrew Grimm, drummer Kurt Celtnicks and Andy Bopp on guitars and bass, have been knocking around together for a few years, during which time they’ve accrued ten albums. For their eleventh, Sleeping with the Light On, they’ve opted to give a few of those tunes a new coat and sprinkle some new ones in between.
It’s a rework that gets the ball rolling with the steady midtempo driving rhythm of Telegraph, the title track of their 2001 release. However, that and the moody desert noir ballad Faithless (from 1999’s Songs from an Engineer’s Daughter) with its steel guitar are probably the only old numbers likely to be familiar even for long time fans. One of the standouts here with its line about power chords is the urgent plangent guitar driven Cinnamon, which evokes thoughts of early Miracle Legion, featured on the 1998 debut, of which Grimm reckons there’s at most 75 copies in circulation. Even harder to find in their original form, the drawled weariness of Sleeping With The Lights On and the steady chug ‘road and relationships’ number Smoke and Diesel both appeared on Grimm’s 2006 solo debut (even he doesn’t have a copy). His solo releases also account for the choppy blues riffing Neil Young-ish Engine (2007’s Wolves) and the gutsy Smoke (2009’s Almost Home), a psychedelic feel to its introduction before that steady driving drum beat and electric guitar storms set in. I have no idea what any of these sounded like in their original form, but they sound damn fine here.
The other five numbers are all new, first up being the guitars dominated growly rock of Hum and Buzz, a mood echoed later with Careless, another of several one-word titles, while You’re Still Here is a more strung out affair to capture its emotional collapse. By way of something different, banjo lays the ground for the sparse hillbilly blues of My Sugar, the album closing in simple acoustic hymnal form with the gentle home on the range rhythm of Already Saved.
Like I suspect will be the case for many, this is a welcome chance to catch up, a compelling vision of where they are now and where they’re heading.