Caught by the River

Shelley Short – Pacific City

Lara C Cory | 10th August 2017

Pacific City by Shelley Short is out tomorrow on Mississippi Records.

Lara C Cory reviews:

Born and bred in Portland Oregon, Shelley Short grew up surrounded by books and music, conversation and open minds, singing to the same in her music. Short’s 2014 album of cover songs, Wake the Dreamers, caught the attention of fellow Portlandian Peter Broderick. He felt “nourished by the sound of the voice coming from the turntable” and invited her to record in his small studio The Sparkle that looks out over Oregon’s North Pacific Ocean coast.

Pacific City is a gentle record that might get lost in a playlist or shuffle scenario, so play this one loud to appreciate its quiet beauty. If you’re familiar with the music of Broderick you might be expecting layers of orchestration or a strong piano presence, but Pacific City is delightfully subtle and remains true to the simple folk tradition. “Shelley seems to be able to look back and find meaningful guidance in the ways of the past” says Broderick. “I think this is where that nourishing feeling came from as I listened to her vinyl in the Spring. There’s an intangible wisdom in the folk traditions, and what a joy it is to spend time with someone who carries some of that.”

While Short knew of Broderick’s talents, she admits “I didn’t know what to expect as a collaborator when I drove out there for the first time. Luckily we got along swimmingly, played cards, went to the beach, made good food.”

Unlike Wake the Dreamers, Pacific City is stripped back to much sparser arrangements and is made up of all original tunes penned by Short, with the exception of ‘Wagoner’s Lad’. A traditional American folk song which has been covered by Joan Baez, Peggy Seeger and Buell Kazee, this track is a stand-out vocal solo and highlights Short’s pure and temperate tone, so well-suited to the style. If you listen carefully you’ll hear an eerie layered vocal, mixed and blended to sound like an organ, pulsing softly with the faint sound of the tide.

‘As Simple as That’ is a lilting and jaunty melody that enjoys the accompaniment of a fiddle, and ‘Lists’ sounds like an old radio tune, complete with a muffled, honkey-tonk piano. The record opens with ‘Death’, a contradictorily cheerful and yet melancholy song inspired by the drive along the coast to Broderick’s studio – “as I drove along a little cliff, with only a small brick wall dividing me from a fall way down into the choppy waves, I wondered what would happen if I sneezed right now and veered off a few feet to the right? Would the waves take me to a place only death will allow you? Who else would be there?”

Along with ‘Fool Babe’ and ‘Fearless’, ‘Death’ emphasises Short’s uncanny ability to preserve and honour the American folk song tradition; deceptively simple in construction with a sturdy lyrical core, the songs are carried effortlessly by her beautiful and uncomplicated voice. Meanwhile, ‘Book Under a Tree’ has a modern character, with an urgent rhythm, more densely produced under Broderick’s deft guidance. The album closes with ‘Harmonium Song (To The Ocean)’ and has, once again, the faint rumble of ocean tides, beginning slowly, solemnly; like a dirge from some long-forgotten place. With soft, gospel vocals that drift in and fade out like shadows against the sombre harmonium, this track closes as it begins; the hymnal grace and ghostly wind-whispers making you wonder if maybe you had just been dreaming.


Pacific City is out tomorrow, and is available digitally, and on limited edition vinyl. Listen/buy a copy here.

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