There’s an earned weariness to the latest Joan Shelley album. The Spur is somehow both longing for the road and yearning to leave it behind. The songs here revel in the small moments of the American silhouette on the horizon — the early morning solace outside the motel when the cold air hits harder than coffee ever could, the ache of knowing that loved ones and the familiar folds of home are close but not at hand. Shelley’s been down that road more than a few times and her writing here lets the gilt peel off the frame of the ideal of the touring musician. She writes from inside the comfort of that welcome relief between stretches of road, but she hints that she knows the spell will be broken. Shelley gathers around her some of the friends who’ve made a mobile family — Nathan Salsburg, James Elkington, Meg Baird, Bill Callahan, Spencer Tweedy, the list stretches on, and they weave her heaviest tale yet.
Even with that weight, Shelley makes these songs float. Her worry, joy, and guilt at the joy she feels while leaving things behind, all weave into the album. Even if your life isn’t built on eight week itineraries, there’s still that familiar feeling of stealing something just for yourself. The elation at having some small notion to oneself, and the pang of knowing you might miss a family moment while tending to your own needs. These are all too familiar notions. Underneath her tapestry of tales, Shelley, with the help of Elkington, finds her songwriting in an almost majestic comfort. The folk and country touches expand into a gorgeous pop palette. Shelley has sounded confident and collected in the past, but here she sounds at peace. Among her family, both musically and literally, the songwriter has found a home that’s palpable, enviable, swooning, and swaying by an unseen hand. The hints of what lies beyond that peace are curling at the edges, but she’s staying ahead of the burn. This may be the most complete album she’s ever made, and you’d be foolish to let it slip by without letting it sink in.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.