It's always a little odd when an artist pulls out the self-titled record a few years into their career. This is Joan Shelley's fourth album, and her most confident to date, so perhaps it's no wonder why she's placed herself front and centre.
This is a very spare record. Some extra guitars, brushed snares, a little bass, and Shelley's 60s folk revival voice. The first sound you hear is room noise. Stereo hum, the kind you might find on an old vinyl, and it continues in that vein. The risk of taking that deliberately vintage tack is contrivance, and though this album tows the line occasionally, it never disappears into itself.
There's as much a celtic feel to this record as there is a country one. If the Storms Never Came sounds pastoral and ethereal, the vocal melody distinct and defined, and mirrored by a twanging banjo. This is followed by the far more trad-country sounding Where I'll Find You, a torch song that wouldn't feel out of place at the Grand Ole Opry, the subtle organ a well gauged flourish on this track.
There's really nowhere to hide on an album this pared back – it's both a strength and a weakness. On the album's more plaintive ballads (Wild Indifference, Even Though), you're thankful for that restraint. Elsewhere, it feels like the songs could benefit from being turned up to eleven a little bit. I Didn't Know has the potential to be dark, but as it appears here, it feels a little undercooked. That said, there's no doubt of Shelley's talents as a singer-songwriter, and if you've recently found yourself listening to people like Courtney Marie Andrews or Hurray for the Riff Raff, then you'll find a lot to enjoy about this.
Listen to: Wild Indifference, Even Though
Buy Joan Shelley - Joan Shelley on LP/CD from Norman Records