Husband and wife team Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst were a bit of a surprise hit last year with the release of the excellent “O’ Be Joyful”. They managed to create quite a reaction not only in the Americana/Bluegrass/Folk scene but also amongst the wider majority. Whilst most people would have first learnt of them through that scene, for us Michael Trent first came to our attention through his work with the wonderful Butch Walker. Butch is a man known for producing quality releases and being associated with great artists so the talent of Michael shouldn’t have been doubted. The question that is now left is whether Shovels & Rope can now meet the expectation which comes with this latest release.
Opening track “The Devil Is All Around” shows we aren’t dealing with some great reinvention and the duo continue to produce stripped back, folk/Americana influenced songs. They do, however, show a bit more of a tendency to throw a smattering of rock n roll in to the mix. This is shown by “Bridge Of Fire” which could almost be a stripped down, acoustic version of a song off Mr Walker’s Spade album. Similarly, “Coping Mechanism” has a hint of rock n roll aching to break out of the song.
The track “Evil” is a great example of what separates Shovels & Rope from other more ‘genteel’ folk bands. They have an added depth and with songs like this, they add a more gothic twist in to the mix. This darker side emerges again on “Ohio” which has an almost voodoo/mardi gras influence. “Stone River Blues” throws in some country but again it’s a dirty Mississippi river feel, that infects the song.
Not surprisingly, the closeness of the singers and the combination of their voices are an important feature of the band. On songs like “Pinned” their voices just sound perfect together. It’s a vital ingredient where the harmonies have the much needed effect of lifting very bare and minimalistic songs like this and “Swimmed”. They are also not scared of just delivering some relatively straight forward country folk numbers like “Mary Ann and One Eyed Dan” and “Save The World”. The last of these in particular is one to get the crowd up and dancing.
With this album, Shovels and Rope have certainly built on the considerable success of their last release. All the ingredients that made the band so refreshing are still there. In particular, they succeed in creating a sound which just sounds so authentic. It is proper roots/folk/Americana music and not just a case of a band jumping on a popular sound or style. The songs have an underlying passion that can’t be faked. It’s an album which will be loved by all their existing fans and hopefully a load more new recruits as well.