Posts Tagged ‘Nathan Salsburg’

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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

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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.

EUROPEAN TOUR DATES. Feb 27 - Espino, Portugal Mar 2 - Bexhill-On-Sea, UK Mar 3 - London, UK Mar 4 - Farndale, UK Mar 5 - Glasgow, UK Mar 6 - York, UK Mar 8 - Manchester, UK Mar 9 - Reading, UK Mar 10 - Brighton, UK Mar 11 - Eeklo, Belgium Mar 12 - Amsterdam, Netherlands Mar 13 - Utrecht, Netherlands Mar 14 - Berlin, Germany Mar 19 - Zurich, Switzerland Mar 21 - Rome, Italy Mar 22 - Turin, Italy Mar 24 - Paris, France Mar 25 - Brussels, Belgium More dates to be announced soon (link in profile for full video)


Shelley’s 2014 LP Electric Ursa was a late-breaking favorite, but “Over and Even” is even better, as Shelley expertly explores love, loss and the unnameable regions in between. She’s as good at detailed, heartrending narratives (see “Jenny Come In” with Will Oldham guesting on backing vocals) as she is at more ethereal vibes (the mystical title track and “Lure & Line”). In tandem with guitarist Nathan Salsburg, it sits comfortably next to classics from Gillian Welch & David Rawlings and Richard & Linda Thompson


The album that sountracked so many of those cool late summer and early fall mornings, a simple, elegant, beautiful album from start to finish. Shelley has one of the most calming, gorgeous voices in music today, the kind that demands you grab a cup of coffee and sit down and do nothing but enjoy it as it fills the room.

Joan Shelley Over And Even

Kentucky songwriter Joan Shelley. In case you haven’t heard this wonderful singer songwriter here. As such, I’ve almost run dry of ways to enumerate the pearly blue lush tones of her voice, the crackling force of her guitar, the spry slant of her melodies. “Over And Even” is the latest release in a series of albums and collaborations that Shelley has been part to, but this one is a gala of the finest order. The legendary Will Oldham and Nathan Salsburg show up, among others, and instead of being eclipsed, Shelley shines brighter when accompanied by such talent.

Set List
“Easy Now”
“Stay On My Shore”
“Not Over by Half”

As technology rules the sound of the day, it’s good to be reminded how powerfully a single voice can transmit deep emotion. Joan Shelley made one of the most beautiful records of the year with just her voice and two guitars. Over and Even has roots in British folk, the sort made popular by artists like Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention in the late ’60s and early ’70s — another time when the dominant music was filled with electricity and texture. The intertwined melodies Shelley and her guitar partner Nathan Salsburg (who’s had his own Tiny Desk Concert) produce are refreshing breaths of Kentucky air in a world of compressed drums and overly processed vocals.