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Music

Review: Joan Shelley, 'Over And Even'

Cover art for <em>Over and Even.</em>
Cover art for <em>Over and Even.</em>

If Kentucky folk singer and guitarist Joan Shelley had written the stories of her second album, Over and Even, for a book instead, its cover would be the forest green of middle Appalachia, and its edges would be worn. Her voice is milky and smooth, but her songs are aged and made wise by their lyrical weight. From the best of her genre she's inherited the illusory ability to write songs that sound ancient and unimpeachably true. So there would be no first edition of her book — it would arrive well-loved.

A thousand prior readings would be discernible in its pages, just as Appalachian and Celtic folk traditions are discernible in Shelley's lilting voice, backed by Will Oldham and Glen Dentinger, and in the rambling, ebullient guitar she plays alongside Nathan Salsburg. Over and Even doesn't branch into uncharted territory subject-wise, but Shelley writes the sort of relatable, cleareyed poetry about landscapes both physical and emotional that Joni Mitchell made shine on Blue and Ladies of the Canyon. While Shelley's trills are more Emerald Isle than Golden Coast, "Over and Even" is a gorgeous dead ringer in both sound and style.

A book by Shelley would be as rooted in its surroundings as this album is. It would have rivers running through it, and birds sketched at the end of every chapter. Over and Even, the album, is traditional folk music as true as it comes despite being captured in the here and now. These are songs for any place and time, today or 50 years from now. This is a book for re-reading and then handing down.

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