Joan Shelley carefully calibrates the particular resonances, timbres, and tempos of her music to slow her listeners’ heartbeats and ease their fears. Her songs function as lullabies, calming anxieties about the transition between consciousness and unconsciousness, despair and connection. In the song “Teal,” from her new album, Like the River to the Sea, she expresses her intent to “tear apart summer’s stuffy and stale rooms” to let in “fresh air, wind, and waves.” Her voice is close, pure in tone. It merges seamlessly with her musical partner, guitarist Nathan Salsburg.
Shelley grew up in Kentucky, and there’s a deep undercurrent of old Appalachian music, but the album feels ethereal and unmoored to place. It was recorded in Iceland with producer Jim Elkington and features guest vocals from Bonnie “Prince” Billy (singer-songwriter Will Oldham) on two songs.
Shelley and her band—Salsburg, violinist Anna Krippenstapel, drummer Nathan Bowles, and bassist Jake Xerxes Fussell (who also played an opening solo set)—performed at the arts-friendly Park Church Co-op in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.