Joan Shelley and band December 7th 2019 The Back Room Milwaukee WI - photo by Dave Robbins
Kentucky folk-singer Joan Shelley describes her latest album, “Like the River Loves the Sea,” as a haven for over-stimulated heads in uncertain times. Visiting Milwaukee’s Colectivo Coffee Back Room for the third time in as many years, Shelley created a welcome sanctuary playing songs anchored in tradition and transformed by a warm, rich voice detailing nuanced feelings and conjuring shaded places. Geography figures prominently in much of Shelley’s literate songwriting with a passive patchwork of pastoral allegories populating her set-list, from odes to hometown mountains to portraits of mounting storms. She drew primarily from her last three albums, chatting between songs with childhood memories sprinkled alongside adult confessions that drew warm smiles from the attentive crowd as her artistic eye and writer’s thirst revealed anecdotes inside lyrics expressing spiritual connections in shared awareness. Milwaukee was fortunate to host what Joan called her dream band with long-time cohort guitarist Nathan Salsburg shining a constant light on Joan’s lyrical delivery and sophisticated folk-songs via acrobatic trills and swift melodic runs; fluid bass player Nick Macri on upright and electric, both bowed and plucked, and drummer Spencer Tweedy who succeeded to drive each groove with nary a drumstick in sight, relying entirely on brushes to rally the troops. Each musician exhibited an unerring ear for cohesive allegiance, cradling Shelley’s polished Southern Gothic softness in waxing arabesques and subtle flutters employing graceful patience and mathematical restlessness. Seamless stories poured over rippling rhythms, the evening passed all too quickly traversing emotional landscapes and personal journeys quietly enlightening and casually comforting. Minnesota-born nomad Daughter of Swords started the night with a lovely solo acoustic session touched with sweet country warbling fusing cultivated roots to post-modern blues.