Doctoral candidate Ali Arant’s time at the University of South Carolina was brief, but the Deep South seems to have made quite an impression. Among the English courses she currently teaches at Wagner College in New York is “Growing Up in Dixie,” something that comes into play on her debut album, June July.
Recorded during her time in Columbia, the album was produced by local musician Darren Woodlief (of Pocket Buddha), who also played guitar and co-wrote several songs. It’s a pleasant listen that touches on folk, country and blues without succumbing to their well-worn cliches.
Arant’s vocals are intimate and effortless, lending the songs a gentle and hypnotic pulse that resembles how Nicole Atkins might have turned out if she had hung out more with her early tourmates, The Avett Brothers, instead of moving on to grander pop stylings.
“Don’t Be Sour” is especially Avetts-like, with banjo bustling brightly through the arrangement, but uncertainty still rears its head — “What we don’t let out will seep out,” Arant sings, “And I don’t fully understand / Why I don’t understand.”
Musically, there is no such lack of confidence as Woodlief and Arant pick their way nimbly through waltz-time meditations (“LiPo”), dirty, Jack White-style electric skronking (“How You Do It”), and the stately blues of the set’s only cover tune, “Trouble In Mind,” a tasteful retread of Richard M. Jones oft revived standard.
More inspired than studied, June July is a fit musical thesis for this professional academic — making it all the more disappointing that we can no longer count her among our local music faculty.
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