The stunning, self-titled fourth album from the Kentucky singer,
songwriter, and guitarist Joan Shelley began, surprisingly, with a fiddle.
In the summer of 2014, Shelley fell for “Hog of the Forsaken,” a bowed
rollick at the end of Michael Hurley’s wayward folk circus, *Long Journey*,
then nearly forty years old. Hurley’s voice, it seemed to Shelley, clung to
the fiddle’s melody, dipping where it dipped and climbing where it climbed.
This was a small, significant revelation, prompting the guitarist to trade
temporarily six strings for four and, as she puts it, “try to play like
Michael.” That is, she wanted to sing what she played, to play what she
sang. She tried it, for a spell, with the fiddle.
“Turns out, I wasn’t very good at fiddle,” remembers Shelley, chuckling.
“But I took that idea back to the guitar and tried that same method. I did
it as a game to make these songs, a way to find another access point.”
But that wasn’t the end of the trials. After collaborating and touring with
ace guitarist Nathan Salsburg for so many years, Shelley decided to put her
entire guitar approach to the test, too. Each day, she would twist and turn
into a different tuning, letting her fingers fumble along the strings until
the start of a tune began to emerge. After playing the songs of her
phenomenal third album, the acclaimed *Over and Even*, so many nights
during so many shows, the trick pushed her hands out of her habits and into
a short, productive span that yielded most of Joan Shelley.