South Carolina-based Shovels & Rope (who released their record O’ Be Joyful this week) is a duo consisting of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, playing a blend of alt-country, folk and rock that is strong, raw, passionate, and extremely catchy. From the first few notes of the opening track, I was completely hooked.
The origin of this band is a bit confusing, but let’s see if we can unravel it. As it turns out, the band name Shovels & Rope comes from the title of a record that Hearst and Trent made together several years ago—so while O’ Be Joyful is technically a debut record for the new moniker, this pair has been playing together for awhile—and it definitely shows on the recording. Trent and Hearst are totally natural together.
This is a duo that operates on the apparent assumption that “less is more.” They typically perform without a backup band, handling as much of the instrumentation as they can handle themselves. Labeling their musical style “sloppy tonk,” according to their Facebook page, their instrumental arsenal includes a drum kit that was literally reclaimed from a garbage heap. Add to that a couple of guitars and harmonicas, occasional guest trumpets, and a pair of twangy vocals and harmonies, and you have a primitive, raw sound that resembles the garage rock vibe of The White Stripes, except with a decisive Appalachian flair. Or think of it as how The Civil Wars might sound after consuming a couple of quarts of moonshine. Either way—it absolutely works. After listening to a couple of songs, I was already scouring their website to find out when Shovels & Rope were coming to my home town. Seriously. This band is that good.
Along with the release of O’ Be Joyful, there is reportedly a feature documentary in the works about Shovels & Rope. I found a couple of songs from the documentary on YouTube, which I embedded below. Neither of the songs are on the album, but they give a great indication about what to expect from this band. Enjoy!