Shelley Short – A Cave, A Canoo

January 01, 1970



Shelley Short makes simplicity look easy. Her gentle,
minimally accompanied songs sound like they might have been composed on the
spot, sung in a near-whisper so as not to wake the young ones up and recorded
directly on the collective memory. Her soft voice flutters effortlessly over
quick flights of melody and slides languorously into sustained notes, not a
hint of artifice glinting through. Her guitar playing is soft and unassuming, a
string of lovely notes left to hang in the air. Her lyrics touch obliquely on
everyday natural images, often drawing the connections to love, life, death and
memory through ellipsis and understatement.


Yet though her songs are
pristine, the arrangements full of light and air and space, they are far from
minimalist. There are complications, even contradictions at play. Opener
“Canoo” is feather light at its onset, a child’s recollection of hiding under
tables to observe adult parties. The real surprise comes after the second
verse, when its translucent textures yield to harder, more rock-derived sounds,
a burst of electrified guitar, a shuffle of drums. And, likewise, “Familiar”
turns from friction-less songwriter prettiness into something stranger and more
geometrical though its instrumentation. There’s an unsettling counterpoint of
plucked and bowed bass (that’s Glenn Moore who plays with Oregon and Nancy King) under Short’s airy
voice, a glistening abrasion of high staccato guitar notes (Alexis Gideon from
Princess and White Hinterland).  “Mockingbird” slips an arcing pedal steel into
its darker corners, a strange shard of longing enmeshed in its waltz-time
reassurance. A martial snare cadence pushes filmy “Time Machine/Submarine”
onward, a bracing bit of rhythm that matches and underlines Short’s assertion
of personal courage. (“Sometimes I’m a-frai-ai-aid. Sometimes I am


Short’s voice is a comfort,
throughout, a soft, supple instrument that glides with grace, most of the time,
and tumbles with puppyish enthusiasm just often enough.  You might call its purity childish, but there
is actually a great deal of sophistication at work. You notice this immediately
with “Interlude,” which begins with a recording of a child (Short, most likely)
singing into a tape recorder. It is plain, straightforward and charming and
utterly without the kind of hitches and glides and sudden twists of phrasing
that embellish Short’s current work. It illustrates how disarmingly Short has
worked sophistication into her on-the-surface artless delivery, adding just
enough ornaments to let her songs’ simplicity shine through. 


Standout tracks: “Canoo,”
“Cave”, “Mockingbird” JENNIFER KELLY


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