Wayfaring songwriter Shay Martin Lovette’s story is shaped by an enduring creative pursuit, an inseparable connection with the natural world, and a deep appreciation for the nonpareil musical voices of the past. After releasing his debut in 2018, receiving a plethora of regional accolades, and spending over 100 days playing shows to eager audiences, he’s back with his sophomore effort.
The new 12-song collection, Scatter and Gather, was produced by Joseph Terrell of North Carolina’s cherished indie roots outfit Mipso (Rounder Records), and features members of the band throughout.
Lovette’s songs deliver evocative imagery that invites the listener along on one’s life journey, full of incidents, escapades, and moments of clarity. From a canyon to a “cold casino rooftop,” and various locales around the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, where Lovette is based, The backdrops are ever-changing but a common thread can always be found in the feelings of his colorful characters.
There’s a “coastal queen” in “Fierce and Delicate Things” (which bears a refrain referencing, a bit mysteriously, “the ones that wear the white jeans”). Then there are the ladies honored by song titles reflecting their names–muses Nandina (“Oh Nandina”) and Rose Marie (“For Rose Marie”), a woman living in a coastal town whose “knees fear the winter” and whose mind “runs an ancient race.” There’s also Ricky, a tip of the hat to Lovette’s father, who is noted for his ability to make a harmony shine in “Parkway Bound.” And those are just the folks mentioned over the course of the first third or so of Scatter.
Scatter and Gather finds Lovette’s characters both uncovering new realizations and reckoning with the past, often in the same song. This is most evident in the heartfelt and orchestral “Further From My Demons,” in which the narrator laments feeling “down and out,” searching for salvation but realizing that to get there, they’ll “have to fight like hell.” Libby Rodenbough (Mipso) provides the perfect string section to deliver the emotion that the lyrics convey and it seems at least a bit of serenity is discovered by the song’s end, though, as the narrator’s partner is praised for delivering them “further from the life [they’d] like to forget.”
Written mostly from a remote, creekside cabin, Scatter solidifies Lovette’s role as a versatile harmonica-wielding wordsmith, effortlessly drifting between the formulas of folk, indie, and roots music. With song structures, instrumentation, and a vocal delivery that, in its more rootsy moments, brings to mind 70s folk heroes such as Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan (and Jackson Browne in its poppier moments, such as the stellar lead-off track, the aforementioned “Fierce and Delicate Things”), the album reflects the talents of a songwriter enamored with the craft. A self-described “student of songwriting and stories,” Lovette is as influenced by the written word as he is by songwriters, noting his admiration for Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ron Rash. A lover of nature, he also enjoys beekeeping and gifting others with a bottle of his sourwood honey, which he deems “the best honey in the world” and pays tribute to with the album’s only instrumental number, entitled “Sourwood Honey Rag.
While Lovette’s sound lies somewhere between the Laurel Canyon-set and Appalachian roots music, Scatter and Gather’s introspective tunes and shimmery production are also likely to appeal to fans of modern indie-folk ala Christian Lee Hutson, Fruit Bats, and Mandolin Orange (Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange accompanies Lovette on Parkway Bound and Sourwood Honey Rag).
Born and raised in Wilkesboro, NC, home of MerleFest, the esteemed roots music festival, Lovette grew up with admiration of the festival’s origins and performers. The combination of setting and the influence of his father, also a songwriter, inspired Lovette to begin writing his own songs in high school. In 2019, Lovette and his backing band won the band competition at MerleFest and were invited to perform a prime time set on Saturday night of the festival with thousands in attendance.
Unafraid of change and sacrifice (he sold his beloved camper van, which he had named “Freedom,” to fund the recording of Scatter), Lovette is fiercely devoted to songwriting as a daily practice. Reflecting on his process, he notes, “sometimes lightning strikes, sometimes it doesn’t, but if you’re not sitting down with a guitar in hand, it’s never gonna come.”
“For me, songwriting is therapy,” he adds. “Even if there’s no obvious connection in my lyrics, I’m still singing about feelings, whether it’s loss, a sense of adventure … or running away from something.” He aspires to reflect in his songs a “live for the moment” mindset, an attitude largely inspired by his brother, Chad, who passed away from brain cancer in 2016. Self-dubbed an “eternal optimist,” Chad continues to serve as a positive influence on his brother’s life and musical output (the two performed together and recorded an EP as The Lovette Brothers, which was released shortly after Chad’s death and is available on Bandcamp).
From listening to the depth and expressiveness of Scatter, it’s easy to get the sense that Lovette must have a multitude of stories and songs still ruminating inside him, waiting for the perfect opportunity to emerge. His lyrics even hint at such, as he sings of “unwritten chapters [that] lie within; the pages keep us warm.” Our ears will no doubt reap the benefits as the fruits of his labor continue to burgeon.