Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Shelley Short is a woman you'd build a fire for. Even if she didn't need one. Even if she already had a good, popping and orange one reaching out to her from the front of a cold and imposing room. You'd always find her as a welcome recipient of an alarmingly strong fire that was crackling its head off. One would think that she'd accept them all, humbly and with a bit of a blush, adding, "It's what I've always wanted and what a lovely colored one you've found for me.
It's just perfect, really, just perfect. I will use it every chance I get." And then she'd very carefully store it in her closet with all of the other superfluous fires that men had given to her over the years, so as not to raise suspicion that the gift was not the ideal one for her - unique and a genuine surprise. Short doesn't necessarily need the warmth from any of these fires as it seems to burn from inside her petty piping hot already, giving her a likely thermos quality, with her fair skin having the touch of toastiness, as if its temperatures were being retained somehow by invisible means. All the same, you feel impelled to make sure she has a fire because you know, or think you know, that she would not treat it poorly. She makes them herself and would spot a good one when she saw it. There is in her what sound to be all of the elements of the classic homebody, crafting, making things with her hands, mending her own sun dresses, grinding her own coffee beans, caring for countless windowsills of potted plants, helping random bugs that have found their ways indoors safely back out of them, occasionally uncorking a new bottle of wine to slowly appreciate and hearing her own voice sparkle against the hardness of the walls and the wooden floors.
There is also in her something just as classic and instantly gratifying that speaks to nothing of the sort. It's the mood and the countenance of a restless beat poet (who just so happens to look more like your favorite babysitter or the person you can count on to always remember your birthday and never fail to recommend to you great books to read), even one of those train hoppers, seeing the sights out of a rearview mirror, living out of a rucksack, subsisting on day-old bagels and the misty memories that a folded photograph kept in a hind pocket bring back. Short sings, "Oh what a day, oh what a day," and it feels like exhaustion, but it feels a bit like some sort of bragging as well, as if she were a gluttonous king who's reclined back on a soft and extravagant divan after a hearty meal, buttons about to pop and sleepy from the amount of joy that just came that way.
Age has no way of stopping or slowing down her interesting way of shaping song material, as it borders on the wondersome wanderings and folk-tale-ish ways that Joanna Newsom gently plays with and makes into her personalized planets, with their own moons and rings, all suitable for gazing. Age is referred to here only in that Short tends to incorporate a good amount of the bygone trimmings, of the child-like deciphering and imaginative structure to her songs, letting them do just as they please, but making sure that the end result is something of a seasoned casserole - of young amazement and learned circumstances. They go together to make a subdued, but rich broth that fills the air with a mothy, dewy and cinnamon-y scent. Short is an extremely talented writer and dazzlingly breathy singer who should be spoken of in the same sentences as the great Jenny Lewis, making ballads to send big, goosey shivers down the spines of balladeers and tuck us in at night when the drafts are attempting to find us, just when we think what a genius thing a fire would be right about at this moment.