| UNUSUAL SUSPECT: Short breathes life into old sounds. |
IMAGE: Laurent Orseau
[TIME-CAPSULE COUNTRY] There’s a small contingent of singer-songwriters who are quietly saving country music, and Shelley Short is one of them. It’s not just thanks to her subtly twangy voice or string-laden music. Rather than waxing naively cute, à la Jenny Lewis, or idiotic (most modern country), Short encapsulates much of what makes old-school Nashville country great: a showman’s charisma (think Dolly), credible melancholy (think Patsy) and close geographical ties (think Hush Records).
Which is not to pigeonhole Short’s intimate third full-length, Water for the Day. The Portland chanteuse employs unpredictable vocal melodies and complex arrangements, as well as plenty of downhome charm. On “How Grand,” Short’s light croon mimics a fluttering hummingbird, pairing coos with tricky rhythms and scale-spanning runs. Later, when bells chime throughout song’s end, you can almost feel cherry blossoms drifting to the ground like snow. “Single Minded Hero” employs a like playfulness, where such proclamations as “My, what a beautiful sunset” and “Words, they cannot hurt me” straddle the line between tongue-in-cheek and straightforward. The song’s quirky question-and-answer refrain, “Are you getting lost on purpose? No, no, no, no, no,” paints an image of Short aimlessly wandering—a broad smile across her face.
It’s these histrionics that—despite lazy accordion, ghostly saw and softly picked guitar and banjo—give Water singular flair. But Short’s not all winking odes to figurative ponies (“4 Legs & Light”) and lighthearted, half-yodeled music-box waltzes (“The Getalong”)—both of which make grand use of Hush labelmate Rachel Blumberg’s light, skilled hand on the drums. When she sings “I don’t know a goddamn thing/ Thank God” on “Godamn Thing,” her sprightly demeanor is quickly weighed down by a solemn, communication-breakdown admission—“I didn’t say anything/ I didn’t say anything at all”—an ominous chorus and low, bowed strings.
Opener “Silver & Gold” and “May Song” bookend Water (which comes in a neat, cutout case designed by Stumptown Printers) with similarly sober ruminations on mortality and loss, respectively. And both give you the feeling Short’s earned her bittersweet humor. The latter’s somber harmonica and childlike backing vocals drive Short’s effortless wisdom home as she plainly observes, “You didn’t miss your water/ Till your well was gone.” For her part, Short declares, “I know what I’ve got when I’ve got it/ I know what I’ve got before it’s gone.” I, for one, am convinced.
SEE IT: Short celebrates the release of Water for the Day on Sunday, April 13, with Two Sheds and Minmae at Someday Lounge. 9 pm. $6. 21+. Listen to "How Grand" on LocalCut.