By Joan Shelley in 2019Updated Mar 2021
Joan Shelley is a songwriter and singer from Louisville, KY. She draws inspiration from traditional and traditionally-minded performers from her native Kentucky, as well as those from Ireland, Scotland,…
Joan Shelley is a songwriter and singer from Louisville, KY. She draws inspiration from traditional and traditionally-minded performers from her native Kentucky, as well as those from Ireland, Scotland, and England, but she’s not a folksinger. Her disposition aligns more closely with that of, say, Roger Miller, Dolly Parton, or her fellow Kentuckian Tom T. Hall, who once explained—simply, succinctly, in a song—“I Witness Life.”
Her perspective and performances both have been described, apparently positively, as “pure,” but there’s no trace of the Pollyanna and there’s little of the pastoral, either: her work instead wrestles with the possibility of reconciling, if only for a moment, the perceived “natural” world with its reflection—sometimes, relatively speaking, clear; other times hopelessly distorted—in the human heart, mind, and footprint.
Since the 2015 release of her fourth album Over and Even, Shelley has crossed the country and toured Europe several times as a headlining artist, joined by guitarist Nathan Salsburg and sharing shows with the likes of Jake Xerxes Fussell, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Doug Paisley, Daniel Martin Moore, the Other Years, and Michael Hurley. She has opened for Wilco, Chris Smither, Andrew Bird, and Richard Thompson. Jeff Tweedy produced her 2017 record “Joan Shelley” at The Loft in Chicago. She’ll be familiar to readers of guitar-centric magazines for having appeared, in the same season, on the covers of Fretboard Journal and Acoustic Guitar. Her sixth and most recent album, “Like the River Loves the Sea,” was released to wide acclaim in Uncut magazine, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Mojo, and Q magazine.