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Joan Shelley, 'The Spur'

Joan Shelley's music feels especially suited to anxious times: The Kentuckian's voice conveys a special kind of soothing, her words reflect on comfort and home, and her musical accompanists amble alongside her with nimble, easygoing grace. Joined by the great Nathan Salsburg on guitar, with additional arrangements by producer James Elkington, Shelley makes folk music deepened by a sense of love, companionship, friendship and connection.

Shelley crafted her forthcoming album The Spur (out June 24) in the wake of the pandemic, as the world around her seemed especially unforgiving. Retreating to the farm she shares with Salsburg while pregnant with their first child, she naturally found herself drawing on — and writing about — the elemental connections that sustain her: her husband, the land around her, the musical collaborators who expand her artistic vocabulary.

In The Spur's title track, all those forces converge in gently soaring fashion. Shelley sings about her inspirations — "all my friends and my enemies, too" — while expounding on the ways they help feed a spirit of renewal and serve as "the spur in my side." No one makes music better suited for moments of hard-won comfort than Joan Shelley. Let her provide the soundtrack to your next reentry into the cold, hard world.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)