We were big fans of Joan Shelley’s previous, eponymous record. In her almost decade-long career the Louisville singer/songwriter has dug out a furrow of alluring, airy folk all of her own. Her fifth studio album Like the River Loves the Sea is another gorgeous addition to her growing songbook.

It’s a collection that feels tinged with melancholy. In the press notes to accompany the album she highlights a succession of similes for the feel of the album; the growth of the Atlantic as it gently divides the Old World from the New; the old Wolfean idea that ‘you can’t go home again’, and that home is only home when viewed from the road (see Tom Waits’ ‘San Diego Serenade'); Iceland’s precarious existence on the tip of a latent volcano. Her new album was recorded on that particularly sharp stab of rock in the North Atlantic. Doesn’t Iceland just feel like a metaphor for life at the turn of the 2020s?

But Shelley isn’t diving into politics here. Her gaze is too wide to fall solely on fears of the future. Like the River Loves the Sea is a Si Kahn reference, he of the civil rights movement and Appalachian pastoral. Despite Shelley’s insistence, this is very much a pastoral record. As least, it feels that way when glimpsed from the suburbs.

There’s a little violence too, in among the beauty. ‘Teal’, as comforting as the production makes it, speaks of tearing apart the "stuffy and stale rooms" of summer to allow in fresh air, wind and waves. There’s a salty backbone to the melodies of tracks like album highlight ‘The Fading’. On its own, Shelley’s voice can be tenderly cracked; when her male accompaniment joins with a harmony she braces itself. There’s no mistaking who’s the leader - and who’s following whom. These are often songs that call to mind empty rooms, rather than the communal life that Kentucky’s down-home reputation perhaps conjures up to us this side of the pond. ‘The Sway’ could only be American; its invocation of a slow dance is inimitably Southern.

I went back to my review of her previous album for reference when writing about Joan Shelley’s latest. I wondered then if she would strike out into stranger territory after the comfortable stasis of that collection. Well, she hasn’t. Some scintillating string arrangements aside, this is at the very most a natural enrichment of a world its creator has been fashioning for almost a decade. It’s tempting to suggest that the recording process in Iceland has leant a glacial air to Like the River Loves the Sea, but it hasn’t really, unless you mean to suggest that this album is evocative of something that is passing into history, never to be rediscovered.

Right now, it can feel like every artistic statement is part of a grand commentary on our collective entropy. Joan Shelley plays on all of our nostalgia for calmer days. Her latest album is great shelter from the gathering storm.