Country and folk music is beloved in America as much for the storytelling as the music. These accounts of folk heroes, lost loves, and miraculous events fashioned the oral storybooks along the branches of family and community trees. These days, tall tales and epics seem few and far between – fighting a constant battle against apathy and cynicism. However, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent of the band Shovels & Rope remind us all that there is still some down home magic if you’re willing to go along for the ride. The duo formed in Charleston, S.C., in 2010 and performs harmony steered songs while playing guitars, a snare drum, some tambourines, and a harmonica. They share the fervent passion of a preacher at a tent revival with the pluckiness of a snake oil salesman zigzagging across the country in their van that doubles as their sleeping quarters.
O’ Be Joyful, rocks and roars between traditional Southern themes and taxing toils fought between themselves and against all odds. The song “Birmingham” recounts the story of Hearst and Trent founding the band after meeting one night in Athens, GA, nearly splitting up along the BQE, traversing through the country trying to carve out a living, to their eventual ascendency.
“Made a little money playing in the bars,
with two beat up drums and two old guitars.
From the Crescent City to the Great Salt Lake,
it ain’t what you got, it’s what you make.”
Hearst and Trent both handle vocal duties, but Hearst is the real star as her voice rustles with a whiskey-soaked confidence. And much like a star or sun, the rest of the sounds, slams, strings, and songs satellite around her spinning in perfect synchronicity. Take a listen to the title track, as Hearst’s sweet and sour vocals take charge.
Title track: O’ Be Joyful
Shovels & Rope are legacy performers, one more rung on a ladder of success stories reared in the Southern condition. Their sound has dents and wobbles and bruises but also a resiliency able to rebound from any impediment. This album is the love child of being backed into a corner and coming out swinging.