Joan Shelley, "Joan Shelley" (No Quarter)
"Joan Shelley" reflects the beauty of simplicity. On her self-titled fourth album, Shelley is often accompanied only by acoustic guitar as producer Jeff Tweedy wisely puts the spotlight on her luminous dimming-of-the-day alto.
More than ever, the Kentuckian explores the connection between the British folk tradition and Appalachia. This is music found on a pub crawl, or on a porch overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Half of the songs were recorded on the first take, and the result is a relaxed mood throughout.
Shelley's lyrics are occasionally undercut by choppy syntax, but she uses distinctive imagery to describe the tug of love — and the tug of the countryside. Her allusion to a roll in the clover involves a foal, and she sings about the pleasures of planting, fruit and idle time.
Graceful melodies adorn the slow, short songs, where subtle variations in tempo and arrangement loom large. Spencer Tweedy's subdued drumming lends a swaying lilt to "Where I'll Find You," but the pace remains leisurely throughout, and even "Go Wild" is a ballad. With a voice like Shelley's, there's no need to rush.