Typically when a record is described using adjectives generally reserved for physical attributes, such as “pretty,” it comes across to me as a deficiency on the reviewer’s behalf; an inability to translate to the reader just what it is that makes the music so good. Upon listening to Shelley Short’s A Cave, A Canoo, it has become abundantly clear that I am outright wrong in this belief, and that music, as simultaneously mystifying and inviting as this album, can best initially be described as what it is at face value, painstakingly pretty.
It takes all of 13 seconds into Short’s third release from Hush Records for the singer-songwriter to knock the wind right out of me with her uncalculated, coquettish voice. To describe Short simply as alt-country would be a grave injustice to her abilities and a disservice to her upbringing in Portland, Ore., and its very evident reflections in her rustic approach to music. Flanked by the colorful guitar work of Alexis Gideon, (who sounds like he graduated from the David Pajo school of rock) and the pitter patter rhythm section of upright bassist Glen Moore and drummer Rachel Blumberg, Shelley Short’s off-kilter chord progressions and sharp, fingerpicked tunes serve as the strange vehicle, navigating the bucolic terrain, for her nursery rhyme melodies. There is a creepy air that permeates the near 36 minutes of A Cave, A Canoo, a sort of melancholic celebration of the weird, wrapped up loosely in a manifold of abject twists and turns.
Short’s dynamic music mirrors the “time machine” life she enjoyed as a youth in Portland; “in some ways we lived like it was 1896, chopping wood, growing our own food, wearing eclectic clothes in a Victorian home and singing our own songs. Other times it seemed like we living in 1955–And yet it all felt like growing up in a movie made in 1963.” Such disparate influences are apparent in Short’s pastiche. Consistent use of flutes, organs, accordions and a piano that sounds like it was lifted straight from underneath the weathered hands of the local player in a late 19th century bar create a pastoral frontier in “Hard to Tell.” Juxtaposed with the light-hearted opener, “Canoo” detailing an anxious and youthful narrator observing from a distance spectacles she wishes to become a part of, Short’s nuanced, varied form and her ambition to explore are her greatest strengths; “There’s a city and I’m gonna go/ It’s a sunny day and I’m gonna take it slow.” It’s this ethic that bleeds through A Cave, A Canoo, the product of more than a year of writing and recording, that separates Short from other talented singers. The patience and calmness in her voice suggests the utmost confidence in her songs and an immense level of comfort in singing them.
Edith Frost – Calling Over Time
Jessica Pratt – S/T
David Pajo – 1968