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Radio Bristol Spotlight: Shay Martin Lovette

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our latest series – Radio Bristol Spotlight – highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performances, we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Southern Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

This past month we met up with Boone, North Carolina-based songwriter Shay Martin Lovette, whose sophomore album Scatter & Gather has been garnering a lot of regional attention. Shay, an Appalachian native, grew up in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, home to MerleFest, currently one of the country’s largest music festivals. The festival, coined by its founder Doc Watson as “traditional plus,” brings in bands from all aspects of roots music genres, and Watson’s catchphrase certainly encompasses Shay’s writing. Greatly influenced by the music of the region, both from proximity and from his songwriter father, Shay holds to his musical background in bluegrass while taking divergent turns into a new landscape of metaphysical songwriting and experimental indie folk. During his on-air performance at Radio Bristol, Shay shared a few songs from the new record and talked about his recording process with producer Joseph Terrell, who hails from the acclaimed stringband quartet Mipso.

Black-and-white image of a man walking towards the camerain front of what looks to be a closed-down strip mall or old motel. The man has shoulder-length dark hair and a scruffy beard. He is wearing jeans, black shoes, and a jean jacket with numerous patches and badges on it.
Songwriter Shay Martin Lovette of Boone, North Carolina, wrote most of the tunes from his newest release, Scatter & Gather, in a cabin on Goshen Creek. Photo by Chris Frisina

To kick off the in-studio, Shay delved into a misty-eyed waltz with the new album’s song “Parkway Bound.” Accompanied by dobro player Aaron Ballance, Shay lyrically painted an expansive picture of beauty encapsulated by the Appalachian Mountains. The first line – “A pocket of clouds catch the Blue Ridge, the summits are quilted in ice” – lays the groundwork for the mystifying tune. Amidst its dynamic musical swells, which feel like echoes of a rolling landscape, Shay also offers something below the surface of his refined artistry. Shay’s appearance was deceivingly unassuming at first; amidst a thatch of neatly parted hair and a nervous but rather welcoming smile, a listener might not expect to experience the depth relayed within his songwriting. Further investigation unveils much: a detailed account of self-contained philosophy and reverence for the present moment – where Daoist meets Hillbilly – thoughts possibly formed at the rustic cabin on remote Goshen Creek where much of Scatter & Gather was written.

The album cover looks like a letter press style print and shows mountains with a river running from them through a green meadow. Above the mountains in geometric design is a sunburst made up of different colors and patterns.
Shay Martin Lovette’s Scatter & Gather was released May 2021.

A slew of nationally acclaimed musicians brought in by producer Joseph Terrell are included on Scatter & Gather. With mandolin from Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange) artist Andrew Marlin, and accompaniment from band members of Mipso along with Mount Moriah, it is no wonder some of North Carolina’s biggest talent lined up to record with Shay at the Rubber Room in Chapel Hill. Simply put, the writing is dang good. Combining elements of live tracking with polished production, the album feels at once refined and organic. This release is great for fans of the late 1960s Laurel Canyon sound and feels like a dream where Nick Drake and James Taylor shook metaphorical hands with Jason Isbell. Stand-out tracks from the album include “Never Felt So New,” a transient folksy romp tinged with synthesizer, and “Sourwood Honey Rag,” an instrumental tune that nods towards Shay’s influence from Doc Watson and love of traditional Appalachian music.

Shay closed out our session with an acoustic rendition of one last song, “Something Wild (All the Way Through),” also from his new record. Like the ripples of a mountain stream, Aaron’s dobro glided alongside the song’s melody as Shay joined in with an emotive performance on harmonica. This song signals a proclamation for the rising songwriter to embrace that they “sang it for the sweet unknown” and are joyful for the “something wild” that’s got a hold of them. You can watch Shay and Aaron’s performance filmed live at Radio Bristol below. To hear more from Scatter & Gather or to order from the limited run of vinyl, visit Shay’s Bandcamp site.

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.