Monday, September 22, 2014

Shovels & Rope at the Bowery Ballroom

Mississippi-born, Tennessee-bred Cary Ann Hearst and Texas-born, Colorado-raised Michael Trent were building solo careers  when they met in 2002 at a gig in Charleston, South Carolina. Hearst and Trent released the album Shovels & Rope in 2008 as a co-bill under their individual names, not intending to form a permanent musical duo. The name of the album came from murder ballads where some characters were hanging and others were burying. The two married in March 2009, but continued to perform and record separately. The couple finally committed to Shovels & Rope as a joint venture in 2012 and released a second collaboration, O' Be Joyful. The Americana Music Honors and Awards in 2013 named Shovels & Rope as Emerging Artist of the Year and named the semi-autobiographical "Birmingham" as song of the Year. Shovels & Rope released its third album, Swimmin' Time, on August 26, 2014.

Shovels & Rope brought a deadly southern charm to the Bowery Ballroom tonight: deadly in that the songs often described perilous times, and charming in that the sweet harmonies made danger sound like fun. The opening song, "Swimmin' Time," with its catchy refrain of "I can see it coming," forecasted a devastating flood or tsunami, for instance, while the two troubadours turned to face each other and looked longingly into each other's eyes. The couple frequently appeared to be lovey-dovey, but the blue collar story narratives were far from romantic. Drawing from solo albums as well as Shovels and Ropes albums, the lyrics were often snapshots of ordinary Americans having extraordinary challenges or experiences. While the two usually sang entire songs together, Hearst's brash and booming Dolly Parton-esque voice dominated, and Trent's harmonies just made the songs sound more interesting. Nathan Koci came out to play trumpet on a few songs, but otherwise Shovels & Rope remained a twosome. Throughout the evening, Hearst and Trent switched places, one person on guitar, the other with a foot on a bass drum pedal, a left hand hitting a snare drum and a right hand playing bass lines on a small keyboard. It was a two-person jamboree of traditional folk duet singing, bluegrass-styled lyrics, country rock melodies, Delta blues guitar licks and a healthy dose of rock and roll attitude, all rough around the edges.
Shovels & Rope had established itself as riveting ambassadors of knee-slapping, foot-stomping, minimalistic acoustic Americana music by the time they were joined on stage by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius for a slowed down version of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

Visit Shovels & Rope at