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Joan Shelley


Joan Shelley is a songwriter and singer who lives near Louisville, Ky., not far from where she grew up. 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.”

She’s not so much a confessional songwriter, and she sings less of her life and more of her place: 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 country and toured Europe several times as a headlining artist, typically with guitarist Nathan Salsburg, and sharing shows with the likes of Jake Xerxes Fussell, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Other Years, and Michael Hurley. She has opened for Wilco, Chris Smither, Patty Griffin, Andrew Bird and Richard Thompson and has appeared as a guest on WTF with Marc Maron, Fresh Air and Later… with Jools Holland.

Video & Press
  • Tomberlin, Wilco, Joan Shelley and Beth Orton Make Bob Boilen’s Favorite Music of 2022

    [NPR] By Bob Boilen Words and textures drive my love of music more than beats and hooks. It isn’t always a narrative that grabs me, though that surely happens. What’s best is when the poetry of the words, or the story they tell, seem woven right into the tone or atmosphere of a song. The […]

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  • Joan Shelley Announces New Album The Spur, Shares New Song: Listen

    [Pitchfork] Her first full-length since 2019 features contributions from Bill Callahan, Meg Baird, Nathan Salsburg, and novelist Max Porter By Evan Minsker Joan Shelley has announced her new album: The Spur is out June 24 via No Quarter. The album was produced by James Elkington and features contributions from Bill Callahan, Meg Baird, novelist Max Porter, and Shelley’s husband Nathan […]

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  • Joan Shelley Has Come to Fully Master a Sense of Radiant Calm

    “Her poetic imagery is dazzling” – The Guardian “The Kentucky singer-songwriter has come to fully master a sense of radiant calm.” – NPR Music KCRW Top Tune (2/27): “The Sway” Touring all spring/summer with stops at Pickathon, Rocky Mountain Folk Festival, Primavera Sound &dates with Iron & Wine, Andrew Bird and Nathan Bowles Upcoming live session on Morning Becomes Eclectic (July 2020) Featured on year-end lists at NPR Music, Uncut Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Q, The […]

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  • Listen to Joan Shelley on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast

    LISTEN HERE. Marc doesn’t consider himself a “folk music guy” but he cannot deny how strongly he responds to singer-songwriter Joan Shelley’s work. Joan talks with Marc about her Kentucky upbringing and how she’s careful to respect the roots of folk music while also infusing her work with a vulnerability and texture that is her […]

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  • Joan Shelley Admires The Beauty In All The Fading

    Heard on All Things Considered By Tom Moon There’s been no shortage of great music by soft-spoken women playing acoustic guitar in 2019. But if you pay attention to one song in that vein this year, let it be “The Fading” from Joan Shelley‘s breathtaking latest album, Like The River Loves the Sea. It’s an elegy tuned to the […]

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