Joan Shelley is a songwriter and singer who lives near Louisville, Kentucky not far from where she grew up. Like the River Loves the Sea is her fifth album. 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.’
In Like the River she sings of landscapes and watercourses; of flora and fauna; of seasons changing and years departing and the ineluctable attempt of humans to make some small sense of all—or, at best, some—of it. 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 album Over and Even, Shelley has crossed the US and Europe several times as a headlining artist, 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 previous record at The Loft in Chicago and her current record Like the River Loves the Sea was recorded at Greenhaus Studios in Iceland.
Chicago songwriter and guitarist James Elkington has collaborated with everyone from Richard Thompson to Jeff Tweedy to Tortoise. His sophomore album at Wilco’s Loft, expanding upon his celebrated 2017 debut Wintres Woma as well as his recent production and arrangement work for the likes of Steve Gunn, Nap Eyes, and Joan Shelley. Casting glances back to British folk traditions as well as toward avant-garde horizons, these brilliant new songs, as accessible as they are arcane, buttress Elkington’s brisk guitar figures and baritone poesy with strings, woodwinds, and backing vocals by Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station.