Release Date: May 5, 2017
Record label: No Quarter
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Folk, Country-Folk
Joan Shelley has already proven she can do a lot with a little. The Kentucky folk singer's third album, Over and Even, was not only a beacon of quiet minimalism in an ever-increasingly loud and cluttered world, it was also one of the best releases of 2015. Generally speaking, Over and Even is built from just a handful of elements: Shelley's graceful melodies, poignant lyrics and stunning voice, plus the sound of the acoustic guitar, expertly plucked by Shelley's longtime sideman (and neighbor in Louisville), Nathan Salsburg.
The eponymous follow-up to 2015's lovely and understated Over and Even, Joan Shelley sees the Louisville, Kentucky-based singer/songwriter and her partner in crime Nathan Salsburg delivering a warm breeze of a record that unfolds like a curl of smoke from a damp bonfire. Recorded in Chicago with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, the 11-track set is loose, yet never directionless, with melodies that are less stately, though no less comforting than those found on the album's predecessor -- Shelley's voice itself is a marvel of sonic palliation. The additions of frequent Tweedy collaborators Spencer Tweedy (drums) and James Elkington (guitar) to the recipe provide some tasty results, especially on the dark and bluesy "I Got What I Wanted," and "Where I'll Find You" and "If the Storms Never Came", the former a heartfelt love song teaming with nautical metaphors and the latter a salt spray-lined almost-shantey that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief.
When self-titled albums fall later in an artist's catalogue, they're usually perceived as statements of intent. Joan Shelley 's comes five solo records into her career at a fairly big moment for the Louisville traditionalist. Following 2014's Electric Ursa and 2015's Over and Even , she's become a songwriter of some renown, yoking country's lilt and primitive picking to her wise, elegant vocal delivery.
A great big warm hug of a record, Joan Shelley's eponymous fourth studio album is a winter coat impeccably spun from only a small handful of colours. With production provided by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and her regular collaborator Nathan Salsburg, the Louisville nightingale's latest has a noticeably deeper colour pallet than previous efforts, without ever straying into the melodramatic. It's a familiar kind of folksy, an oft-attempted hybrid of Americana and Hibernia, with as many nods to Fairport Convention as there are to fellow Kentuckian Will Oldham.
If Nick Drake and Sandy Denny had had a kid, she may have grown up to be Joan Shelley, a Kentucky folkie whose exquisitely hushed fourth album sounds like a collection of the world's most downcast sea shanties. As guitars gently curl and coil around her, Shelley recalls romantic expectations and disappointments in terse, almost haiku-style verse ("I've seen the sun rise over you/Now I watch it setting down"), and only the slightest uptick in the beat signifies she's in love. Producer Jeff Tweedy wisely keeps the focus on Shelley's unsullied voice, adding perfect touches like squeaky lead guitar on "I Got What I Wanted." He never rains on Shelley's parade; she does it all on her own, and beautifully.
It's always a little odd when an artist pulls out the self-titled record a few years into their career. This is Joan Shelley's fourth album, and her most confident to date, so perhaps it's no wonder why she's placed herself front and centre. This is a very spare record. Some extra guitars, brushed snares, a little bass, and Shelley's 60s folk revival voice.