Shovels and Rope

Folk/Bluegrass
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Editorial Review

SHOVELS & ROPE
Album review: "O' Be Joyful"
By Catherine P. Lewis
Friday, August 17, 2012

Folk singers/songwriters Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent had established solo careers before joining forces in 2010 to record together. Their first album as Shovels & Rope, “O’ Be Joyful,” is a rowdy collection of songs about outlaws and rebels that channels their subject matter into rambunctious sound.

Album-opener “Birmingham” traces the story of two traveling musicians, a “Rockamount cowboy” and a “Cumberland daughter,” in a lively tale that’s hollered so passionately that it might as well be autobiographical. “Cavalier” is a bluesy rock number, while the sultry “Hail Hail” is peppered with saucy horns. Shovels & Rope’s music is equally compelling at mellower tempos; on “Lay Low,” Hearst tones down her normally harsh wail to complement Trent’s mournful sigh. The sorrow-drenched song is one of the more memorable tracks here, despite its slower pace.

The duo makes one strange structural choice that thwarts its engaging stories-around-the-campfire vibe. In the middle of the album, “Kemba’s Got the Cabbage Moth Blues” starts with a lengthy introduction from one of their live performances. The poor audio quality and pointless lecture about audience etiquette really detract from the sassy, boot-stomping attitude of the song. Luckily, there’s only one such momentum-killing moment here; the rest of “O’ Be Joyful” is full of entertaining character sketches and detailed stories.