From the August 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER


The Kentucky-based folk singer-songwriter Joan Shelley calls forth colorful sonic landscapes within her trademark economical songs. This is particularly evident on one of her latest tunes, “Wild Indifference,” in which her gently strummed patterns intertwine beautifully with embellishments from her co-guitarists, Nathan Salsburg on the acoustic and James Elkington on the electric.

Shelley wrote the song on cello banjo (tuned C G F C F G) and later adapted it for her National Style O resonator guitar, in open-D tuning and with a third-fret capo. To get into this tuning, lower strings 1 and 6 down a step, to D; string 2 down a step, to A; and string 3 down a half step, to FG. Clamp on the capo and the music sounds in the key of F major, a minor third higher than fingered with respect to the capo.

The song makes good use of the droning open strings that take on different functions when the bass notes are changed. For instance, the top five open strings form a D/A (sounds as F/C) chord, but when you add your first finger to the second-fret B (in actuality, the fifth-fret D), you get a Bm7 (Dm7 chord).

The notation on the top line here shows the basic patterns for the bulk of the piece, starting off with the main part heard in the intro, verses, and outro. Note that a low D (F) is often added on the D chord, and a low G (Bb) is often played under the Bm7 (Dm7), forming a Gmaj9 (Bbmaj9) chord.

Whether you play the pattern with your fingers or a pick, use alternate strumming; add a little emphasis to the single bass notes, so that they stand out against the strums. And let the open strings ring throughout.

The interlude gives you a sample of Salsburg’s fine lead work—recorded, incidentally, with a late-1940s Martin D-28—heard above the main strumming pattern. Heads up on the shift, from fourth position to second, at the end of bar 2.

A subtle textural contrast occurs in the first two measures of the bridge, where the guitars converge in a loose unison before returning to those pastoral-sounding open-string strums. 


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This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine. The notation for “Wild Indifference” is available in the print edition.

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