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.”
She’s not so much a confessional songwriter, although Like the River… gets closest to such
subjectively emotional impressions as perhaps any album to date, 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 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.