Joan Shelley On Quiet Energy And Growing In Wisdom The Kentucky folk singer says her onstage adrenaline "comes from a focus, rather than doing the high Van Morrison kicks in my velvet jumpsuit."

Joan Shelley On Quiet Energy And Growing In Wisdom

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


SIMON: Not far from Appalachia, down in the hollows of Louisville, there's this singer, Joan Shelley


JOAN SHELLEY: (Singing) Got to leave this house, go swiftly out. I've been lying around 'til noon. 'Til the fear comes on that I might have fallen. Honey, I think of you.

SIMON: Joan Shelley's new album "Over And Even" offers hints of mountain music and Americana, some Celtic guitar licks and shades of English folk-rock. Joan Shelley joins us now from the studios of WFPL in Louisville, Ky. Thanks so much for being with us.

SHELLEY: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: I've read that most of the songs on this new album you wrote while you were in Greece, right? And I gather you've been traveling a lot recently.

SHELLEY: Yeah, doing a lot of touring in mostly Western Europe and the U.S.

SIMON: Is there a song you could point to on this album that was influenced by being in motion like that?

SHELLEY: Sure, well, in contact with lots of different cultures, I'll say the song "Ariadne's Gone," the story of Ariadne in the Greek mythology and all that that I was coming in contact with in Greece, so lots of mixing and traveling incorporated in that.


SHELLEY: (Singing) Lay down beside me. I want you to touch me. I know we're not friendly that way. I walk the sands where your temple still stands. Now you've gone where you wanted to go.

I was on a shore and looking at a lot of ruins and meeting a lot of live people and hearing all these myths and stories that were ages older, just imagining the interaction between the old gods there, the way they painted them in the stories and the real people, so that song explores that.


SHELLEY: (Singing) I'll write my poems and letters for this. Pulled from the air are the words that you give if you're willing.

SIMON: You were at the University of Georgia, Athens, and started performing in coffee shops, I gather.

SHELLEY: That's right. It was getting a lot your friends to go sneak in a bar with you (laughter) and then sit there and cheer for you. I think that's the model I followed.

SIMON: That's the business plan (laughter), the cultural plan. What did you sing? Your own stuff or how did you begin?

SHELLEY: I sang a lot of - covered a few songs, some Van Morrison and Cat Stevens I really dug. And I learned them on guitar and kind of improved my skill on guitar in front of everyone really. And...

SIMON: Was the audience attentive?

SHELLEY: For the most part, the few. No, they - I mean, they weren't, and that made it more comfortable for me.

SIMON: If they weren't really paying attention, you could make mistakes or just try stuff out, I guess. I mean, did you get paid or...

SHELLEY: No, we would get drinks for free, I think. (Laughter) I shouldn't say that 'cause I was maybe not supposed to be getting them, but...

SIMON: Well, I'm sure statute of limitations has expired, so you should be all right.

SHELLEY: (Laughter) Thank goodness.

SIMON: Back to this album, let's listen to the title cut, "Over And Even."


SHELLEY: (Singing) We sight the morning, softly. Take to them easy. The scent of the wood and coffee, our cup is filling. Outside, the river flows, its course unfolding.

SIMON: You can definitely hear more than a little touch of Brit folk here, sort of like Fairport Convention. You probably had heard people comparing you to Sandy Denny, but I gather you didn't hear Sandy Denny before anybody heard you.

SHELLEY: That's right. I had at least one album under my belt before I got to find Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson. It just played so much in my house and such a big influence. I mean, really, I think that Celtic stuff may have been in there longer 'cause I'd always listened to Irish music and enjoyed traditional Irish music, as well.

SIMON: Let's play a little bit more, if we can, from another group you're in. And this album, "Wolverine," from Maiden Radio, was released this summer. Let's listen to a little of this.


MAIDEN RADIO: (Singing) I'm going across that green, icy mountain, mountain, mountain. I'm going across that green icy mountain if I don't take sick and die.

SIMON: So you go back and forth between your own stuff, this group. How does it work out?

SHELLEY: It's pretty nice, the pace, when one project is taking all my focus and I wrap that up, it's kind of like we can take time to do Maiden Radio performances or recordings. And since it's such a different vein, traditional music, and there's a kind of wisdom in those songs that allows me to grow

SIMON: There are some people who seem quiet and introspective, and they get on stage to cut loose. Do you do that?

SHELLEY: I - no, I don't cut loose (laughter). I don't rock or anything close to it, really. There is adrenaline for me in that experience, but it comes from a focus rather than doing the high Van Morrison kicks in my velvet jumpsuit.

SIMON: You don't have a velvet jumpsuit, right?


SIMON: (Laughter).

SHELLEY: You won't find out about it.


SHELLEY: (Singing) Over and over and over and even.

SIMON: Joan Shelley, her new album, "Over And Even." She joined us from the studios of WFPL in Louisville. Thanks so much for being with us.

SHELLEY: Thank you for having me, Scott.


SHELLEY: (Singing) And over and even, and over and even.

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