Joan Shelley makes startling music. It's not discordant or dissonant, nor does it make a big hell of a racket. It doesn't strut around, it doesn't do amateur psychedelics, all sound and fury, and it won't beat you over the head with stern-faced atavism, dressed up like an FSA photograph, mewling about old times. It startles because you know, you think, that you've heard it before. You might in fact have heard it often, deeply. It's very familiar. But, despite the closeness, the aching familiarity that her songs exude, you've never heard her songs before. They weren't written by Kristofferson or Newbury, Wolf or Sorrels. It can be hard to believe, but none of them are "Trad., arr. Shelley." Joan wrote them, all of them, and she sings them, too. Listen to her sing — it's evident. You've never heard that voice before, either. You won't soon forget it. The Greek poet Archilochus is responsible for the oft-quoted chestnut about the fox and the hedgehog. “The fox knows many little things," wrote the poet. "The hedgehog knows one big thing.” Shelley songs are foxy; they're canny and cunning. But when they've all played through, what's left is a startling feeling of one big thing, something that "stands like a ginkgo tree — tall, strong, and wise." That big thing is Joan Shelley. Startled, you start the record over, and then over again.
- Nathan Salsburg, Guitarist & Archivist at the Alan Lomax Archive
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