Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, whose paths have intertwined as contemporaries, friends, collaborators, lovers, and possibly even rivals, have become two halves of the same sound, and it couldn’t be sweeter.
Based in Charleston, South Carolina, the pair independently honed their musical chops under several guises before crossing paths and eventually marrying, both legally and musically. Shovels & Rope, though an odd moniker, seems steeped in symbolism. Ordinary, everyday items put together can be productive, effective, and even life-saving in the correct hands and used together.
Lead single and first track, Birmingham, is the heaviest production of the album and probably has the most mass appeal. The single could commercially reach the niche popularity of the likes of Mundy's Galway Girl, but it’s as the album sweeps and soars in pace and poignancy throughout the other ten tracks that real magic is uncovered.
Influences of old school rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, soul, folk and country permeate and propel an album which is essentially a beautiful collection of harmony. Hearst and Trent are so in-sync, so in tune that the combination of their voices together really is something to behold. Thankfully that combination gets treated with minimal production.
Trent, a softer voice to Cary Ann's enticing raspy notes, produced and engineered an album which the pair wrote together and on which they play many of the instruments. There’s a clever use of sampling going on too, notably a funny, grainy recording of an intro the band received for a live set on Kemba’s got the Cabbage Moth Blues.
The song itself is a mile-a-minute, fiery little ditty which is filled with their self-proclaimed “swampy talk”. Hail Hail and Tickin’ Bomb also deliver energetic swamp rock as welcome waves separating slower tracks.
Carnival captivating with its touching sadness and sensitive imagery. Light strum and piano riff repeat as Hearst and Trent coo some of the most delicate harmonies on the album. It’s a stand-out track and I found myself lost and absorbed in its simplicity. Likewise, Lay Low is a quiet and powerful ballad which further showcases their smooth, sensitive and soaring vocal.
Concluding the album, This Means War delivers solo vocals from Trent. The song’s severe title is juxtaposed by his lingering lyrics of love in a part-lullaby, part-lament, to which a sample of a three-year-old Cary talking to her grandfather brings the record home.
O’ Be Joyful is an album you wish is going to continue when it ends. I wanted more; I was shocked time had passed so quickly, disappointed the album had finished already.
I wanted to keep digging.
Shovels and Rope visit Dublin to play Whelan’s on May 8th 2013.