Experience the folk beauty of Kentucky with “The Spur”

After a three year hiatus, Joan Shelley brings her personal life into her newest album


No Quarter Records

Joan Shelley strums her way through the album, showcasing her incredible lyrical and instrumental talent.


In the city of Louisville, Kentucky, a young musician named Joan Shelley began her career as an American folk artist in her remote hometown. Shelley began writing her seventh album during the pandemic, stationed on her family farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky. During this time, the town’s natural lakes and streams were tainted by pollution. The purpose of her album is to restore the attraction of Kentucky through the art of music. A combination of alternative and folk are the focus of her newly released album, “The Spur.” Shelley uses elements of hope, grief, and joy to convey her experiences in her childhood. 


The first song on the album, “Forever Blues” is a melancholic tune with hints of a melodious theme, despite the reality of loneliness. Setting up the tone for the rest of the album. Shelley says, “Will we mourn what we lose? / Your eyes seem to show it / I believe that they do.” She soothes listeners’ ears with soft strums of the acoustic guitar. Her vocals has the same tone all the way through, along with a few vibratos and instrumental breaks.

“Amberlit Morning” caught my attention. In contrast to the first track, it places listeners into the storyline as if the song is about them.  Within the track, there are vocal accompaniments by Bill Callahan. Callahan’s deep vocal range adds a new layer of rooted, comforting sense of security for the listeners. While listening to this song, I spent plenty of time decoding her words and understanding their worth. Shelley writes, “It takes so much to be human / And watch the bold die / I am sorry / I thank you”. Shelley reflects on the complexities of humanity and how it’s not easy to witness others burn out. She says, “I felt a tremor in the mountain / No place for us to cling to / To save each other” As I was listening to this track, I found myself thinking of those who I lost and even the ones I’ve gained. I was able to bring this track close to my heart. 


“Breath For The Boy”, the seventh track on the album, is my personal favorite. The instrumentals begin to slow down, matching her vocal tone more as she sings. The tune stays quiet and calm, adding to the eerily relaxing vibe of the song. Upon listening, the lyrics refer to a young boy who can’t seem to win the universe over. This song touched me personally, because I was able to relate to the lyrics. In my favorite lyric, she sings, “The sweet one who tried to be tough / Curly brown hair and chin to the wind / Counts all his losses but hides his wins / Not sure he’ll get enough.” He struggles to keep his morale high but refuses to give up. The world seems to be cruel to him, but he only returns stronger. 


Each track in “The Spur” felt as though it could bring listeners to serenity. I found myself laying back in my room, imagining the stories she sang about, and letting them take me to another world. I specifically enjoyed the vocal work similar to Billie Eilish. I also didn’t expect her to be so skilled on the guitar, but it was a pleasant surprise. After 41 minutes of relaxing, crying, and even dancing, I could confidently say any fan of folk will put these songs in their playlists.