Shelley Short‘s A Cave, A Canoo provides a clear distinction between Americana and folk. The acoustic-based music that Short plays is the type that you would expect to find in rural backwoods and Appalachian trails. It’s fragile instrumentally but strong lyrically. It’s very distinctive and unapologetic about this; it is what it is, and that’s either its selling point or its sticking point. It is truly Americana; no other place could have produced this album.
It’s hard to describe this album without sounding trite, because the it’s not what she does but how she does it that makes this album worth your time. There’s some gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar, some auxiliary instruments (grumbling cello, creaky violin, twinkling piano, etc), and her delicate, distinctive voice. She doesn’t stray far from this formula, other than the “Interlude,” which is made to sound like an a capella vinyl recording. It’s kinda weird, but endearing.
“A Cave” shows off her piano skills and impressive melodic content, as it is the most memorable track. Even when she shifts to piano, her gently rolling style transfers over perfectly. These songs all have a lilting gait that makes them incredibly pleasant to listen to. “Racehorse” seems to waltz gently by the listener’s ear, while the live-recorded hiss of “Tap the Old Bell” creates a feeling of security and honesty in the song. The greatest deviation from this is “Hard to Tell,” which is accompanied by an accordion. Even though this is not out of the tradition at all, it’s still feels almost roaring next to the gentle acoustic ballads and piano offerings that precede and follow it. It’s still a wonderful song, but it is a bit jarring the first time it appears.
In short, this is a true-blue Americana album. It suffers a bit from having a slow pace throughout, but the ease of listening almost entirely redeems that fact. If you’re a fan of folk, Americana, or great female singers, this is for you. Incredibly enjoyable.