When: Sun., July 22, 9 p.m. 2012
Joan Shelley's dry, austere tone grabbed me in the very first moments of "Ginko," the lead cut and title track from the Louisville singer's new album on Ol Kentuck—one of the best I've heard this year. Shelley's beautiful voice sounds like it belongs to a lost talent from the folk revival of the early 60s, when plenty of urbane young women explored the country's vanishing rural music—but she's hardly trying to recapture some mythical past, since aside from fiddle and banjo her band essentially uses rock instrumentation, right down to the electric bass and drum kit. The ballad "Siren" is heartbreakingly gorgeous, and unlike so many women singing similar material, Shelley doesn't weigh down her lines with florid ornamentation—she shapes her melodies with precision and clarity. Supported by an excellent cast of musicians that includes bassist and cellist Ben Sollee, violinist and singer Cheyenne Marie Mize, and guitarists Nathan Salsburg and Daniel Martin Moore (who also produced), Shelley has developed a strain of folk-rock that sounds like she's updating public-domain repertoire from between the world wars—but all 11 songs are her handiwork. She sings with striking intimacy, as though addressing someone sitting just a few feet away, but she can also really project—and when the band builds up a head of steam, she lets loose without losing control. Shelley performs tonight with her working band, June Brides—electric guitarist Joe Manning, bassist John Pedigo, violinist Anna Krippenstapel, and drummer Sean Johnson. —Peter Margasak Angela James and June Brides open.