Song You Need To Know: Joan Shelley, ‘Coming Down For You’
The Kentucky singer-songwriter latest is a shimmering folk song recorded in Iceland, conjuring guardian angels and ecological disaster.
By WILL HERMES
Joan Shelley sees Kentucky as her nest. But looking for fresh perspective, she decided to work on new music in Reykjavik, Iceland, at Greenhaus Studios. “Coming Down For You” suggests it worked out quite well. The sound will be familiar territory to fans of her six previous albums (not counting three with string band Maiden Radio). It moves at a cantoring pace, weaving a spell with banjo and electric guitars; virtuosos Nathan Salsburg and James Elkington both contribute; while frequent Shelley foil Bonnie “Prince” Billy wraps her in weathered harmony vocals like an old leather jacket.
Shelley’s somewhat cryptic lyrics suggest romantic salvation alongside ecological disaster. “And if with scorched lungs you call to me … Up the canyons and the valleys/ I will call back to you,” she sings, conjuring fires in California as well as the long legacy of volcanic activity in Iceland. And when she invokes the title in her cool, luminous alto, it’s easy to imagine a guardian angel sweeping down like a lost scene from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. It’s gorgeous, timeless, borderless music.