Somebody to Love - Valerie June
Just down the road about 60 km east of Bobby Bland's birthplace and just 17 days under 52 years later, Valerie June was born in Jackson Tennessee.
This track reminds of a programme, recorded in the early nineties, wherein Ladysmith Black Mambazo came over to Hackney, London, to perform and record the Zulu song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" with a group of black East London young women. The experience was extremely moving, not least because the women, though trying valiantly, were so far removed from their African heritage, even from American soul and sixties girl groups, they came across as being hopelessly culturally rudderless, missing the notes with no natural sense of the music or the timing so that every moment they sang with LBM showed showed them off to worse effect. The programme makers had accidently created a portrait of a people marooned in a European urban jungle so far from their origins that spoke far more than volumes of text books created for Black History month.
So too with Valerie June on Somebody to Love, except she does it on purpose, sourcing the poverty of her splintered heritage, stealing the African phrasing, the bluegrass Tennessee ukulele and violin, gospel organ and backing vocals, and triumphantly unifying them in a plaintive offer of love.
Well, if you're tired and feelin' so lonely you wake up at night thinking that only if you had somebody I'll be somebody somebody to love
When the song begins, she sounds like a vulnerable little girl, but then gathers strength, till she triumphs gloriously, turning the plea into something great and universal, yet still maintaining its delicate gentleness. And yes, that is Booker T Jones (of Booker T and the MG's) on organ, making us feel as though we are in church.