Celebrated Kentucky Singer/Songwriter Joan Shelley Returns to Greater Cincinnati

On the heels of glowing reviews from 'Rolling Stone' and 'Pitchfork' and an appearance on Marc Maron's popular 'WTF' podcast, Shelley is back in the Bluegrass State Wednesday for a show at Newport's Southgate House Revival

Nov 4, 2019 at 1:06 pm

click to enlarge Joan Shelley - Photo: Amber Estes Thieneman
Photo: Amber Estes Thieneman
Joan Shelley
Louisville, Kentucky has had plenty of “Roots” musicians come to national attention in recent years, but Joan Shelley may just be the most important one since Will Oldham/Bonnie “Prince” Billy emerged in 1993.

Having become familiar to Cincinnati audiences with increasingly high-profile shows here (including opening spot for Richard Thompson), she headlines a concert at Southgate House Revival on Wednesday, Nov. 6. Shelley will be joined by a five-piece band for the show, with Nathan Bowles (drums), Nathan Salsburg (guitar), Anna Krippenstapel (violin and harmony vocals) and Jake Fussell (bass) joining her.

Visit southgatehouse.com for tickets and more show info.

Because Shelley plays acoustic guitar and has a voice that delivers lyrics with crystalline clarity, sometimes extending syllables as if letting them free to float away with newfound freedom, some tend to think of her as a Folk singer — a contemporary Joni Mitchell (think Song to a Seagull and Clouds era), singing with grace about the elements. Indeed, some of the songs Shelley wrote for her new Like the River Loves the Sea album, especially “High on the Mountain,” remind one of Jackson Browne’s quieter but emotionally resonant, introspective work.

But like Oldham, Shelley keeps surprising her growing fan base as she evolves into a thoroughly contemporary, challenging artist whose work is rooted in Kentucky Folk yet is about the world. For Like the River, she went to Reykjavik, Iceland to record — something Oldham has done — and the setting infused her Kentucky-inspired songs with a wider worldview. It’s one of love, but cut through with an undercurrent of fear and sorrow as she contemplates coming environmental changes.

This is most clear in her masterful “The Fading”, a new song in which she awaits the rising of the world’s water level from her old Kentucky home: “When it breaks down/Oh, babe, let's try/To see the beauty in all the fading/When it breaks down/When the stakes get high/To see the beauty in all the fading.”

Like the River has earned positive reviews from major outlets like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. Shelley recently appeared on Marc Maron's popular WTF podcast.