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Joan Shelley

Based out of Louisville, Kentucky, singer/songwriter Joan Shelley has a warm and mellifluous voice that evokes both the Deep South and the West Coast, drawing from old-time country and '60s folk. Composing melodies that are often quiet but full of drama and emotional shadings, Shelley's music had a dark and bittersweet quality on her early solo material such as 2012's Ginko, despite the primarily acoustic arrangements. As her work matured, she dug deeper into acoustic sounds, and a sweetly sad tone informed albums like 2015's Over and Even and 2019's Like the River Loves the Sea, while 2022's The Spur was an emotionally powerful set informed by her thoughts about prospective motherhood. A talented songwriter and prolific performer, Shelley splits her time between solo outings and collaborations with other area musicians like Daniel Martin Moore and Joe Manning, with whom she issued the albums Farthest Field (2012) and Outside Stay Outside (2014), respectively, and with the old-timey music trio Maiden Radio, which also features the talents of Julia Purcell and Cheyenne Mize. Shelley released her solo debut, Ginko, in 2012, followed by the No Quarter-issued Electric Ursa in 2014, the latter of which saw her working alongside fleet-fingered guitarist Nathan Salsburg. 2015's Over and Even found her and Salsburg delivering an evocative set of country-folk originals that flirted with English and Irish traditional music. For her eponymous fifth studio LP, she, Salsburg, and James Elkington headed up to Chicago to record with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy behind the board. The first single from the record, "Wild Indifference," appeared in March 2017, with the full-length album arriving later that May. For 2019's Billboard-charting Like the River Loves the Sea, Shelley traveled to Reykjavík, Iceland, where she recorded with a handful of local musicians; Bonnie "Prince" Billy also made a cameo appearance on the album. She returned the favor by contributing vocals to Billy's 2019 album I Made a Place, and also made appearances on recordings by Red River Dialect (Abundance Welcoming Ghosts), Tyler Ramsey (For the Morning), and Rachel Grimes (The Way Forth). The following year saw the release of the concert LP Live at the Bomhard, which was recorded in Louisville the year prior; it was released in part to provide financial support for her road band, who were left without paying work when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from playing further tour dates. As Shelley and her partner and guitarist Nathan Salsburg waited out the pandemic, she began writing songs that reflected the emotional baggage she'd carried since childhood, as well as her thoughts about a world in uncertain condition politically, socially, and environmentally. It found her re-examining her writing methods; she had long refused to share her work unless it was finished, but changed her mind with a circle of fellow writers affiliated with the Marigold Collective, who included Bill Callahan (aka Smog). She, Salsburg, and producer James Elkington gathered to record 12 new songs from Shelley's latest batch of material; 2022's The Spur also featured contributions from Bill Callahan, Meg Baird, and Spencer Tweedy.
© James Christopher Monger & Mark Deming /TiVo


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