Like The River Loves The Sea
No Quarter Records
Over a half-dozen albums across the last decade Joan Shelley has refined her sound and perfected the craft of subtly confessional songwriting – nothing jarring at all here in the simple instrumentation and gorgeous singing. But look beneath the beautiful poetic worlds (“A haven woven with warm colors”) that set these songs up for the reminders of what was there, what is no longer there (“Shock of teal blue/Beneath clouds gathering”).
Sitting somewhere between Gillian Welch and Laura Marling – and isn’t that the perfect place to be? – Shelley’s latest might well be her finest. There’s something deceptively simple in these songs and performances. It’s less of a downer, but carries some of the spirit of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon (Haven, Coming Down For You), even hinting towards Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece at times (When What It Is, Awake), via The Cowboy Junkies (The Fading, The Sway).
You’d sign up, instantly for Shelley, her voice, her songs. But as added bonus you get longtime collaborator Nathan Salsburg (whose own recent acoustic instrumental album is well worth your time) and a couple of duets with friend and fellow Kentuckian, Will Oldham (aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy).
There’s something in the musical shapes here that keep returning me to the sound of Pink Moon, closing track Stay All Night has those simple slipknots of acoustic guitar driving it, the completion of the journey set up by opener, Haven which even has Drake-like hues of humming entwined with the guitar line.
If there’s a more gorgeous, deceptively simple set of songs released this year I’ve yet to hear it.
Hopefully this is the one that puts Shelley in front of many millions. At the same time this feels precious and we should be lucky to discover it, to have its music while it floats, recorded, but seemingly impossible to pin down.
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