In December 2016, after more than a year of touring, songwriter Joan Shelley, together with guitarist Nathan Salsburg, headed to Chicago, where they joined Jeff Tweedy for five days in Wilco’s studio. Spencer Tweedy, home from college, joined on drums, while James Elkington shifted between piano and resonator guitar. Jeff added electric accents and some bass, but mostly, he helped the band stay out of its own way. “He was protecting the songs. He was stopping us before we went too far,” Shelley says. Indeed, half of these songs on the album that resulted are first takes. “The first time is always the best. That’s when everyone’s on the edge of their seats, listening to not mess it up,” Shelley says. It’s fitting that the new release, slated for May 5, is called simply Joan Shelley. These are, after all, her most assured and complete thoughts to date, with lyrics as subtle and sensitive as her peerless voice, and a band that offers support through restraint and nuance.
While the songs of the Kentucky songwriter have echoes of both the American and British folk revivals, they’re also startlingly original. Shelley’s warm mellifluous voice evokes both the Deep South and the West Coast. Over the past five years, she’s released five albums. When not touring on her own, she’s been busy opening shows for Patty Griffin, Wilco and Richard Thompson. Her 2015 release, Over and Even, was called “one of the most beautiful releases of the year” by NPR Music and “as compelling a record as that genre has seen” (Pitchfork). Now the new album, with its eleven sterling songs, is the sound of Joan Shelley emerging as one of music’s most expressive emotional syndicates.
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