Joan Shelley : Electric Ursa

Joan Shelley Electric Ursa cover jpeg

Out of the batch of new CD’s I bought recently, none has enchanted my quite as much as Joan Shelley’s 2014 album Electric Ursa. Being previously unbeknownst to me, a favourable review of her new album Over And Even attracted my attention to her, a quick listen of Electric Ursa on iTunes quickly made me realise I might be in for something very good. Which Electric Ursa indeed did turn out to be.

Joan Shelley hails from Louisville, KY. I am as yet not too informed on her musical background, but some tracks, especially the utterly fabulous album opener Something Small make me suspect she’s rather from an Independent Rock/Post-Rock background than from a straight Folk or Country one as wouldn’t be totally surprising given where she’s from. Although Folk clearly is the style most prominent in her work, even more so on her new album than on here. Something Small also is the highlight for me on Electric Ursa, it’s full of tension, and the hypnotic, mantra-like chorus of ‘It’s all layed out in front for you to take it’ is just magic. It’s the melodic phrasing and some of the guitar work on many tracks making her work stand out from many of her Folk contemporaries. I don’t even know if she herself would put herself in that musical corner, but the review mentioned above made me believe that.

River Low is turning up the tempo a little bit on here and is a VERY lovely and straightforward piece of acoustic Folk magic – just as I like it.

Moss and Marrow and First Of August both slow things down considerably and are dominated by the hushed sounds of gently strummed acoustic guitars, only sparsely augmented by instruments such as keyboards (Moss And Marrow) and lead guitar (First of August). They also, like many of her songs (on Over And Even as well), remind me a bit of a not-quite-so-dark Low, coupled with some prime Cowboy Junkies. Another comparison coming to mind (mine at least, I’m probably one of only few people still remembering them) mid-90’s alt country band Tarnation, mainly due to the reverb-drenched lead guitar on First Of August.

The short Remedios is a gorgeous instrumental (featuring her choir voice, but no words) and starting off with a lone and lonesome banjo to be accompanied by violin and dreamy keyboard sounds later in the song, giving it a hymnal, pastoral lullaby feeling. Dreamy being the appropriate word anyway to describe her music, all of her songs I so far know (on here and on her new album) possess that late night, sleepy atmosphere I am very much drawn to.

A short album (only about 33 minutes) but one sure to linger in my mind for a very long time.

Derroll Adams : The Mountain

Derroll Adams (1925 – 2000) was an American Folk Singer, living for most of his life in Europe. He worked extensively with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in the 1950’s and became friends with Donovan.

Having just discovered his work I do not yet know much about him and am not very familar with his music, but this song has a captivating quality I find hard to resist.

Gillian Welch : Hard Times

Most everybody knows Hard Times, and in case you don’t, here’s the skinny. It was written by Stephen (Collins) Foster and published in 1854. The first audio recording of it was released in 1905 (if Wikipedia is right). There have been dozens (probably more like hundreds) of recordings done since by the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith ( I would love to hear Iron & Wine’s, undoubtedly fine, version too, but couldn’t find it anywhere). Of course I don’t know all of them, but I simply cannot imagine there’s one better and more beautiful one than Gillian Welch’s. And Dave Rawlings’, I should add. I always thought it a shame they are referred to simply as Gillian Welch, as his contributions, mainly on the guitar, are crucial to what is making most of their songs so wonderful and good. Hard Times is no exception to this. The typically reduced simple banjo and acoustic guitar arrangement is absolutely befitting a song like Hard Times, not to mention Welch’s unmistakable voice. It’s taken from 2011’s The Harrow & The Harvest. Dave Rawlings Machine’s new album Nashville Obsolete is out on September 18th and most probably one of 2015’s outstanding releases. Rejoice (I certainly am).

Country Joe : I-feel-like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die-Rag

Although this probably ruins my credibility with some of you people reading this, I have to admit that I watched Woodstock (the film) for the first time deliberately last night. I had seen it before in pieces of course, but hadn’t really payed that much of notice as that whole scene and time period wasn’t really my cup of tea (or so I thought in the past).

Having watched it now I have to say that in my opinion, Country Joe’s performance must have been one of the most memorable and best moments of the festival, but there are probably many people who would disagree with that statement. What is yours? Crosby, Still & Nash’s performance was pretty amazing as well.

Incidentally I believe that this song might have had a big influence on Todd Snider – had to think about a lot of Snider’s songs and overall attitude and style seeing this.

Anyway, here it is, enjoy. A worthy addition to my blog.