Joan Shelley is an indie-folk singer/songwriter from Louisville. She’s one-third of the old-timey/Appalachian Folk trio Maiden Radio (who we’ll hear from later), but as a solo artist she’s a little bit different. Outside of that band, she’s released a few solo records. She’s also released an album with Daniel Martin Moore, who also produced her newest album. Daniel Martin Moore has also recently done some collaborations with Jim James out of My Morning Jacket, Haley Bonar, and with a few others who are mostly part of the Louisville scene. The connections go on and on, too. This newest record also featured Kevin Ratterman in the studio. You may not recognize his name, but he’s worked with everyone in Louisville including but not limited to Rachel Grimes, My Morning Jacket, and Rodan. He’s also worked with Flaming Lips, Dean Wareham, and Andrew Bird.
The newest Joan Shelley album features a bunch of guest appearances. The aforementioned Rachel Grimes plays piano on five tracks. Will Oldham (better known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy) sings on three songs including tonight’s song. Daniel Joseph Dorff plays on a few songs. James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg were also contributors.
To be fair, I didn’t know any of this before today. I hadn’t heard of Joan Shelley (or Maiden Radio) until the 2016 Hopscotch lineup was announced a couple of months ago. In my initial round of homework and research, I put both Joan Shelley and Maiden Radio onto my long lists of bands to see, but I didn’t make the connection until earlier today.
I’ve spent a bit of time today listening to Shelley’s solo stuff, and this is one of my favourites:
“Stay on My Shore” by Joan Shelley
Those harmonies are magnificent. As dulcet as Shelley’s vocals are on their own, Oldham’s harmonies push this over the top. There’s something in these harmonies that reminds me a bit of the perfect harmonies of Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell out of Ida. There’s also something about this song that reminds me of my favourite Basia Bulat song: “Sparrow”.
In the first verse of this song, Shelley sings:
Stay on my shore
And don’t desert me
And if you go
The wind will blow you back to me
And if your boat is broken out on the rocks
It wasn’t anger, but a longing
Not exactly the same as what Basia Bulat sings in “Sparrow”, and it’s actually quite a different sentiment, but it still reminded me of this. And this bit always slays me. Every time.
One day the one you battle might be me
Let your bird go lost
I will bring her back to you in spring
She won’t change at all
Let your sparrow fall to what might be
And when you’ve done your howling
and done with everything
If she is gone for months again
Will you still say you watch for sparrow wings
In Shelley’s song she’s saying “I’m gonna let you go because I know you’ll be back” while in Bulat’s song, she’s saying “let me go and I’ll probably be back”. Very different, but the way Shelley used that line “the wind will blow you back to me” is precisely what reminded me of the brilliant Basia Bulat song.
You can buy the Joan Shelley record via Bandcamp here.
Joan Shelley will be playing on Saturday night September 10. The last night of the festival. Her band Maiden Radio will play at 9:30 in Fletcher, followed by Shelley’s solo set at 10:30. There’s a lot going on that night, but I’ll probably be there for those two sets. I really do like to spend time at Fletcher on the Saturday night each year. Who could forget last year’s impossibly beautiful solo set by Katie Crutchfield? The Alexandra Sauser-Monnig set in 2014? The amazing Low set in 2013? Those were all highlights of their respective festivals, and they were all Saturday night Fletcher things. I still stand by my claim that the Katie Crutchfield set in Fletcher last year was in my top two things I’ve ever seen at Hopscotch,
I’m hoping that the Joan Shelley set and the Maiden Radio set can be added to that list of amazing things that have happened on Saturday night in Fletcher.
You can buy Hopscotch passes for the whole weekend, single day, or you can even get tickets just for one of the main stage events. All of the ticketing info is here.