Daily Distraction: Listen to Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Joan Shelley cover each other's songs

Shelley and Nathan Salsburg take on 'Superwolves' track 'Watch What Happens' while BPB and Matt Sweeney give 'Stay on My Shore' a creepy coating

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Nathan Salsburg and Joan Shelley, inset, with Matt Sweeney and Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Last year, after the pandemic put a halt on live music, Louisville songwriter Joan Shelley and guitarist Nathan Salsburg (her partner in life and music) made a habit of playing songs by other people and putting those intimate performances out into the world. 

“The nice part about so many people doing covers during quarantine is the turning outward,” Shelley told Alive in August. “Instead of the Internet being more about what I do, you get to see what people love, and that has been more encouraging for finding new music.”

More:Joan Shelley on performing via screens, pandemic songwriting and telling the truth

It makes sense, then, that Shelley and Salsburg would team up again to cover the music of their friend Will Oldham, aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy. The Kentucky musicians tend to show up on each other's recordings, such as Shelley's gorgeous Live at the Bomhard album from last year, which prominently features Oldham on several tracks. In 2019, Shelley's voice appeared on the (also gorgeous) Bonnie "Prince" Billy album I Made a Place. 

More:Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy basks in the glow of a tiny life

Most recently, Oldham teamed up with Matt Sweeney for a new Superwolves album, which also happens to be one of the best records released so far this year, and this week Shelley and Salsburg issued their take on Superwolves track "Watch What Happens." For the flip side of the digital single, Oldham and Sweeney reworked "Stay on My Shore," from Shelley's 2015 album Over and Even, coating it in a creepy sheen.

Give both covers a listen below. Beneath that, Oldham and Shelley/Salsburg provide some words about the songs and the process.

Will Oldham: "There was a time when new songs got shared around, and when a new song was coming out it wasn’t strange for multiple recording artists to have a go at the song, and oftentimes a new composition would be recorded and released by multiple artists on multiple labels within its first year of public existence. All you have to do is listen to the first two episodes of the new season of Tyler Mahan Coe’s Cocaine and Rhinestones podcast to get a feel for this phenomenon. So we’re harkening back to more collaborative and competitive times, when songwriters and singers and publishers and producers knew what each other was up to, when we here release Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg’s take on our new ‘Watch What Happens.’ To be fair and fun, Sweeney and I got our hands really, really dirty by thrusting them into the loam of Joanie’s ‘Stay on My Shore,’ which Matt turned from a frank admission of vulnerable love into something somewhat… creepier. I’ve sung ‘Stay on My Shore’ with Nathan and Joan many, many times in the years since its recording six years ago, and I’m thrilled to sing on it every single time. Each time I sing on it, I try to wring out of it some of the weird hard complexities of my own understanding and appreciation of romantic need; it’s chock full of power and potential to be so dissected and revisited. Matt made it modal and dirge-y, as scary as anything Siouxie Sioux or Baby Dee have ever intoned…maybe. The past year-and-a-half has made many of us workers-in-song reach out over distance to reassure and inspire each other, and here we have joyfully volleyed our musical ideas forth and back, as friends and siblings in the cause."

Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg: "Being asked to cover someone’s song is like being invited to rearrange someone’s room. Already admiring the Superwolves’ furnishings and spatial sense, we found plenty of fun and satisfaction just messing with their stuff, rifling through their drawers, sitting in their chairs, jumping on their bed, and watching what happens."