Posts Tagged ‘Joan Shelley’

Recorded at the Bomhard Theater in Louisville, KY on December 13th, 2020 with the Best Hands band: Jake Xerxes Fussell, Nathan Bowles, Anna Krippenstapel, and Nathan Salsburg. Guest appearances by Julia Purcell and Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

Proceeds from this album go to support the Best Hands Band that supported me. With their own tours delayed and the future uncertain, they deserve some love!
The support I have felt from you all recently has been moving beyond words. I thank you for keeping music close to your hearts right now. Love to everyone. Joan

released April 9th, 2020

The performers:
Joan Shelley – vocals, guitar
Nathan Salsburg – vocals, guitar
Jake Fussell – bass
Nathan Bowles – drums
Anna Krippenstapel – vocals, fiddle
Julia Purcell – vocals
Bonnie “Prince” Billy – vocals

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Joan Shelley makes music that lulls my soul. Her new album, Like the River Loves the Sea, is a serene experience. It’s music with a deep connection to British folk music from the ’60s and ’70s but with influences from this side of the world and her home of Louisville, Kentucky.

On this session Joan Shelley is joined by her musical partner and Louisville companion, guitarist Nathan Salsburg to play DJ. You can hear the roots of the music they make in the songs they chose to share, from American banjo legend Roscoe Holcomb to English folk singer June Tabor and the contemporary music of Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

Guitarist Nathan Salsburg is Joan Shelley’s longtime musical partner Joan Shelley tells the story of recording Like the River Loves the Sea in Iceland and how they had to forgo adding banjo to the album because they couldn’t locate one in Iceland. We also hear Joan Shelley’s early trio called Maiden Radio, Joan and Nathan’s new collaboration with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and how she met him at an ugly sweater party in Kentucky.

“Covers” EP recorded February 2018 with guest appearances from Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Daniel Martin Moore, Julia Purcell, and Doug Paisley. The sweetness of the harmony and beauty of the tracks made me have to purchase this album. The vocals float like ethereal sprites with compelling warmness yet a certain captivating sadness as well. This is what Americana should sound like… this is what country should sound like… for it’s so real and emotionally delivered… yet absolutely gorgeous.

100% of sales from the EP on Bandcamp will go to the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. This exclusively digital album is also paired with a limited edition print set, whose proceeds also benefit the organization. The print sets were illustrated by Lettie Jane Rennekamp, and printed by Patrick Masterson Letterpress.


released March 28th, 2018

Drums – Sean Johnson
Bass – John Pedigo (except track 1, Bass – Kevin Ratterman)
Guitars – Joan Shelley & Nathan Salsburg

All songs arranged by Joan Shelley

Living in the river town Louisville, Kentucky, where the Ohio River is at its widest, must be impactful for Joan Shelley, as both this album and her last, 2018 EP Rivers and Vessels, include the word “river.” This time the river led her to Iceland, where she recorded yet another exquisite collection of songs that pairs the purest voice since Joan Baez with an exploration of uncertain currents. Over the past few years, and seven albums, Shelley, along with longtime guitarist Nathan Salsburg, has quietly created a genre unto herself.

In her album announcement she said that her songs invoke a “conversation with the divine that has seen all of it. … They are also a longing cry born of all the dividing; a call across the slowly spreading ocean. Primarily, [the album] is a haven for overstimulated heads in uncertain times.” To say that she and Salsburg put you in a trance is an oversimplification, but you do get lost and want to linger in a world so slip-shaped that only heaven seems to know. Thus, I cannot pick any single song to highlight, but if you are taken with “Cycle,” a Nick Drake-Sandy Denny-like floater, you’ll be as smitten as I am.

“LIKE THE RIVER LOVES THE SEA”, the new record, is coming out in just over 2 weeks.  I can’t wait to rip off the seal and let you all into it. Two songs are out now, as singles for the record:
Click to listen to Coming Down for You featuring Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Nathan Salsburg, and James Elkington-and Cycle featuring Nathan and James as well as the Icelandic sisters, string dream-team Sigrún Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir and Þórdís Gerður Jónsdóttir. Music video animated by Douglas Miller.

From “Like The River Loves The Sea” out August 30th, 2019

Joan Shelley Announces New Album <i>Like the River Loves the Sea</i>, Releases Single “Cycle”

Louisville-based singer-songwriter Joan Shelley has released a new single, “Cycle” and announced her forthcoming album title “Like the River Loves the Sea”.

The acoustically mellow track, “Cycle” stays in the lane of Shelley’s normal folk music. Touching on the vocal and lyrical nuances of Joni Mitchell, as well as the folk undertones of Gillian Welch, Shelley’s sweetly soft vocals mixed with the wistful melody and building strings of the song are a match made in heaven.

The song is the second taste of music from Like the River Loves the Sea. The first, “Coming Down For You,” still finds Shelley diving into her singer-songwriter ways, but the track is sonically a bit bigger and less stripped-back than “Cycle.”

Due out August. 30th via No Quarter Records, Like the River Loves the Sea was recorded in only five days in Reykjavik, Iceland, and all 12 songs were written by Shelley. Following her 2017 self-titled album, Like the River Loves the Sea illustrates the ethos of love and comfort throughout nature.

“The best music would be a conversation with the divine that has seen all of it, or with the oldest trees that have witnessed the whole human story. These songs are partly that conversation, at times through the lens of lovers,” Shelley says in a statement. “They are also a longing cry born of all the dividing; a call across the slowly spreading ocean. Primarily, Like The River Loves The Sea is built as a haven for overstimulated heads in uncertain times.”

“Like The River Loves The Sea” out August 30th, 2019

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Joan Shelley recorded “Coming Down For You” in Iceland. Despite this venture away from her native Kentucky, her love of banjo, guitar and bass still ripples, swirls and flows around Shelley’s voice like a river over well-worn stones. “Coming Down For You” is out now on No Quarter Records.

The Louisville singer-songwriter Joan Shelley makes lovely, warm acoustic folk music. Last year, she released the covers EP “Rivers & Vessels”, taking on songs by people like Nick Drake and Dolly Parton. A few months ago, she shared covers of Frank Sinatra’s “I Would Be In Love (Anyway)” and Kate Wolf’s “Here in California.” And now, she’s back with some more new music of her own.

“Coming Down For You,” her first original song in over two years. She travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland to record it with a whole host of kindred spirits from the folk music scene — Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Nathan Salsburg, and James Elkington — and its cover art features a photograph of her mother.

The song “came to me while I was in motion and I couldn’t write it down,” Shelley says. “I was thinking of the rhythm of animals, of work, and of travel; the rhythm of someone riding into chaos to bring a loved one back out again.”


When Joan Shelley performed with Wilco at New York’s Beacon Theatre this March, she stood huddled on the corner of the massive stage alongside collaborator Nathan Salsburg. Beneath Wilco’s elaborate backdrop of trees and foliage, the pair might have even appeared, from certain angles, as one body, their instruments (Salsburg on guitar, Shelley alternating between guitar and banjo), overlapping both physically and sonically. And if their tight knit music and cozy positioning on stage didn’t already indicate a sense of intimacy, Shelley closed the set—which highlighted tracks from her extraordinary new self-titled album—with a traditional folk song, sans accompaniment and sans microphone. As Shelley stepped to the front of the stage to sing “Darling Don’t You Know That’s Wrong,” the audience became a part of her small circle.

It was a fitting gesture from an artist who describes her music as “the quickest way from me to another person,” whose every word seems to be chosen as a way to cut through the chaos of daily life. “It’s coming to the people instead of people coming to you,” she says of the a capella performance: “As a singer, it’s asking more from my body in order to physically do it—to turn up what you’re doing, and step outside the barrier of technology.” It makes sense that Shelley sees technology as a hurdle and not a tool. As she’s evolved as a songwriter, her songs have become more unadorned and powerful. Her two previous records on Philadelphia label No Quarter—2014’s Electric Ursa and the following year’s Over and Even—each represented massive steps forward through the deeper refinement of her craft. If you carve out a place to listen, her music fills the space around you.

Shelley’s latest record is no different. Produced by Jeff Tweedy at his Loft Studio in Chicago, Joan Shelley widens her scope, focusing on more spacious songcraft. The first single, “Wild Indifference,” is built on a series of sustained, open chords that sound like sighs of relief. But the album also marks Shelley’s starkest, simplest work to date. Early in the writing process, she found herself inspired by the most primitive of folk tunes: recordings in which performers simply sang in unison with their instrument. “I started trying to be a more playful guitarist,” she says, citing the jokey songs of cult favorite folk artist Michael Hurley as a guiding light.

The musicians who accompany her on the record, including Salsburg as well as multi-instrumentalist James Elkington and drummer Spencer Tweedy, took a similar approach. The recordings are mostly first and second takes, just after Shelley introduced her band to the music. “They’re all excellent musicians who can feel the their way through the dark the first time through a song,” Shelley says. You can hear the collaborative energy in the music. “Where I’ll Find You” is one of the album’s most upbeat numbers: a deceptively simple song that ambles with a jazzy lightness. But deeper listens reveal complexities in the performance: Tweedy’s brush-stroked drums never find a steady pattern, looking to the cadence of Shelley’s vocals instead of the rhythm for guidance.


Shelley is quick to note the difference between “percussion” and “implied percussion,” meaning rhythms that are built into the music and not laid atop it. “I always hear percussion when we play,” Shelley says about her process with Salsburg, “The game is to just play the guitar while imagining the percussion, because spelling it out isn’t always the most interesting thing to me.” On the record, Tweedy seems to display an intuitive understanding of the concept as well; it might even take a few listens to the record before you start distinguishing which songs feature drums and which do not.

In this way, Shelley’s most collaborative album also stands as her subtlest and quietest. Like her performance at the Beacon Theatre, the process for writing these songs was one propelled by a sense of proximity and place. She had recently moved into a house in her native Louisville, Kentucky, just around the corner from Salsburg. Their closeness allowed their writing process to become more fruitful than ever, and Shelley found inspiration in her new home. “Certain houses, certain rooms,” she explains, “it’s the same way with instruments, you’re like ’There’s songs in this instrument.’ Even if it’s not the fanciest one.” The songs on Joan Shelley, while rarely making explicit references to her location, often take cues from the world around her. The opening number is called “We’d Be Home,” and it’s one of her most striking compositions. “See the morning light,” she sings, her warm fingerpicking intertwining seamlessly with Salsburg’s, “Gentle as it tries to make you new every morning.”

With its pensive tone and recurring themes of trust and self-preservation, Joan Shelley plays as a series of mantras whose power amplifies when put into practice. “How could you stand it,” she repeats in one of the album’s more ominous numbers, “if the storms never came?”  Shelley assures that all resemblances to the country’s political climate are coincidental. “It’s funny how some of it can be reread in that light now,” she says. “Our inner struggles are the same we’re playing out on a national level.”


While Shelley’s inspirations are based on more insular anxieties, she remains attuned to the pulse of the world. Shortly after Leonard Cohen’s death, she shared a gorgeous cover of his Various Positions track, “Heart With No Companion.” It seemed to really resonate with the times,” she says of his song, which warns of impending “days of shame” and “nights of wild distress.” But while Cohen’s version was featured on one of his most lavishly produced records, Shelley’s rendition is austere—even by her standards. “I wanted to cover that song so people could hear the words,” she explains, “And not be scared away by the crazy Casio keyboards.” In other words, she wanted to make it her own.

In the wake of Cohen’s final album, his death, and Trump’s election, Shelley found herself, like many Americans, in a state of—as Cohen might have put it—wild distress. “If that wasn’t the most dramatic record release, political event, and death of an artist,” she says sternly, “Then tell me another one.” She quietly shared her cover, and shortly after, considered abandoning the Internet all together. “It takes so much mental space once you’re in the feedback loop of posting and seeing and checking again,” she says, “It doesn’t make me feel good. The information’s not necessarily useful.” There’s something slightly anachronistic about hearing Shelley speak of the perils of social media, considering how the most modern technology referenced on her latest album might be a fireplace. But she sees in our times the same lesson she’s learned through her years of songwriting, the same hard-won serenity that her music reflects: to find the things that are most vital to you, to hold them close, and to know it’s enough.

Covers EP recorded February 2018 with guest appearances from Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Daniel Martin Moore, Julia Purcell, and Doug Paisley. Covering Nick Drake can be tricky, but Joan Shelley manages just fine with her gorgeous, heartfelt rendition of Five Leaves Left’s lead off track . She doesn’t do anything radical with the song — she just lets it breathe, wearing its wistful melancholy like a favorite winter coat. Joan Shelley is back on the road this year, for a few dates, she’ll be supporting the guy who played lead guitar on the original “Time Has Told Me” — the mighty Richard Thompson himself, who has been known to cover the tune from time to time. Maybe Joan can coax him onstage for a duet.

100% of sales from the EP on Bandcamp will go to the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. This exclusively digital album is also paired with a limited edition print set, whose proceeds also benefit the organization. The print sets were illustrated by Lettie Jane Rennekamp, and printed by Patrick Masterson Letterpress.

Sincere thanks to the musicians who volunteered their time and talent to this project. Also thank you Jessica George of RPM for coordinating and motivating, Lettie Jane Rennekamp for contributing her drawings and the title, Patrick Masterson Letterpress Printing, Catherine Irwin, Glen Dentinger, Mike Quinn, Jessica Kane, and everyone at the Kentucky Waterways Alliance for their vital work.

Released March 28, 2018

Drums – Sean Johnson 
Bass – John Pedigo (except track 1, Bass – Kevin Ratterman)
Guitars – Joan Shelley & Nathan Salsburg

All songs arranged by Joan Shelley 

We often associate the strongest emotions with loudness: a scream, a belly laugh, an agonizing cry, but Louisville singer songwriter Joan Shelley proves on her self-titled fifth album that deeply felt emotions can exist just as comfortably alongside stillness and quiet, potentially more so. Like Townes Van Zandt, Shelley is most powerful telling bedside tales that can unexpectedly level you with a slight twist of phrase. Coming seven years into her career, this Jeff Tweedy-produced effort finds Shelley, who describes herself as an “open nerve,” with the confidence and sigh of relief that often comes in your 30s, able to feel and think all at once without feeling completely overtaken in self-doubt. Drawing skillfully from Appalachian musical traditions, this album is a reminder that great American roots music still exists and that despite a constant feeling of crowdedness in the field, a voice and a guitar can still be more than enough when put in the hands of the right artist.

This Kentucky native writes simply and straightforwardly, with a singsong cadence in her vocal melodies and a sense of gentle purpose in guitar playing. “Where I’ll Find You” uses those elements to speak softly about hard desire: “I blamed the wind when my legs shook/ but your eyes, that hungry look.” It’s all the more powerful for being so understated, as she can barely admit to feelings she can’t even name.


There’s a kind of clarity and calm in Joan Shelley’s music that feels especially welcome in these fractious times. Her crystalline voice, with just a touch of vibrato, glides over soft finger style guitar, with melodies and imagery that seem to spring from traditional folk yet are her own. “Rest up baby, lay back now / Here the hands, here the mouth,” she sings in the opening track of her new album, Joan Shelley. “If you were made for me . . . then we’d be home.”

In spite of what its self-titling might suggest, the album Joan Shelley, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, is not a debut—it is Shelley’s fourth solo release since 2012. She comes from Louisville, Kentucky, and is deeply connected with the music community there, with regular collaborators including Cheyenne Mize and Julia Purcell, with whom she formed the old-timey trio Maiden Radio; singer-songwriters Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) and Joe Manning; and guitarist Nathan Salsburg, her main accompanist these days on record and onstage.

On her breakthrough album, Over and Even (2015), and on Joan Shelley, Salsburg’s guitar lines blend so seamlessly with Shelley’s that the collective sound is like one instrument played by four agile hands. One reason they match so well is a shared love of British Isles folk—in her case, particularly singers such as Vashti Bunyan and Sandy Denny, and in his, guitarists such as Dick Gaughan and Nic Jones .

Where I’ll Find You – Later… with Jools Holland – BBC Two