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Music Review: 'Over And Even,' Joan Shelley


Joan Shelley is a singer's singer.


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.

CORNISH: Shelley is based in Kentucky. Our critic Will Hermes thinks her new album, "Over And Even," is one of the most beautiful releases of the year.


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. It's strength, it never knows, its sweet alluring (ph).

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: There are no smart phones in Joan Shelley's new songs, no text messages, selfies, curse words, none of the shorthands of modern songwriting. Yet their emotions are so immediate, they feel completely modern, filled with images of fog and forests, the scent of coffee and sweat, the taste of honey and wine and the sound of an unrobed voice.


SHELLEY: (Singing) And my eyes are still searching for a light in the fog, a sweetheart to sing for me. I was thrown from the center where I once so greatly spun. I was pulled through the colors. Through the colors did I run. And my eyes were wide and gleaming, though wind-whipped by storm. There was no more shelter for the broken.

HERMES: Joan Shelley often focuses on things that are broken or torn, but the damage is surrounded by beauty. Her voice is unglossed by electronics, and she sings mostly without bravado, echoing the clarity of English folk singers like June Tabor. I like the way a fellow musician compared Shelley's way of landing on a note to a laser hitting a diamond.


SHELLEY: (Singing) Here on the mountain, I'm thinking of you. The birds are all singing, screaming of youth. And here I am, holding, keeping you up, just a place you can lay when you're older. But it's not over by half. There's a gold in your eyes looking down through the black. And you're still standing with your hand on (unintelligible). No, it's not over, not over by half.

HERMES: There's nothing very complicated here - mostly voices, acoustic guitars and a piano. But it's like a meal made with things just pulled from your garden - so different from the mass-market stuff, you might think you're tasting it all for the very first time.


SHELLEY: (Singing) It's a subtle kind of love. It's a simple kind of glory.

CORNISH: Joan Shelley's new album is called "Over And Even." Our critic, Will Hermes, is author of the book "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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