Aug
2

Album Review – Shovels & Rope “O’ Be Joyful”

August 2, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  19 Comments

Shovels & Rope are The Civil Wars for the rest of us. Not pretty, not polished, no Johnny Depp look-alikes here. Just two oddball musicians smashed together in a strange, yet weirdly-intuitive pairing to make music how we like it: raw, untethered, and rabidly infested with emotion.

By all accounts Cary Ann Hearst is bat shit crazy, but that’s okay because she has just enough sanity to harness her wicked creative bone and effuse it with wild energy and an impressive vocal range. Michael Trent is like the rock that Cary Ann swings around as the two swap instruments in a very stripped down setup of guitar, bass drum, and other orphaned percussive accoutrements procured along the way that they play too loudly sometimes, and mostly in-time.

The chemistry of Shovels & Rope is what makes them shine. The sincerity of the music, and their ability to seamlessly blend vocals allows them to ascend beyond their otherwise humble setup and skill sets. Cary Ann even says it in the opening track “Birmingham” which also acts as their de facto introduction and theme song: “Played Springwater, Station Inn. Couldn’t play fast, couldn’t fit in.” What she can do though is sing in high register with that Loretta coal-grit in the back of her throat and awaken something deep and familiar in the music, especially when Michael Trent joins in on harmony.

Shovels & Rope is at their best when they’re autobiographical, or seemingly so, like in the song “Birmingham” and the second track “Keeper” about how the world turns against you, and you against the world when you think you’ve found that one. With Shovels & Rope’s gypsy lifestyle, cuddling in the back of a tour van every night, their songs just seem like a natural extension of their everyday life set to music. This is how the pair’s chemistry draws you in so deep.

Probably no surprise for you folks that my favorite track on the album is also the most country, the knee-slapping “Kemba”. O’ Be Joyful is just as much country as it is folk, rock, and blues, but one thing I was a little surprised about, especially with the hype surrounding this album was how straightforward and somewhat predictable the music was. The songs are all catchy and engaging, but it’s mostly just riffs, many times relying on simple dynamics and chords instead of instrumentation, arrangement, or composition to make the song compelling. Maybe with the emphasis on vocals and lyrics, adept composition would have gotten in the way. On the flip side, the simplicity and dynamics allow the music to be accessible and extra engaging live. It’s always good when an album sounds live, and makes you want to experience the content in a live format.

Another issue is this fog the music feels like it is set in. It’s really hip right now to use very dirty, primitive recording techniques and dimension in the music to give things a vintage feel, but here instead of setting things front and back in the recording, everything seems set back and a little too muddy to where it goes from giving you that “antiqued” texture to just being somewhat frustrating to the ear.

In this post-White Stripes world (if that is such a thing), these duo tandems are really hot. Shovels and Rope and O’ Be Joyful separate themselves from the herd by being so reckless and unhinged about the whole business, by being so madly eaten up with true love and friendship, and by having so much fun while doing it.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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19 Comments to “Album Review – Shovels & Rope “O’ Be Joyful””

  • “Another issue is this fog the music feels like it is set in. It’s really hip right now to use very dirty, primitive recording techniques and dimension in the music to give things a vintage feel, but here instead of setting things front and back in the recording, everything seems set back and a little too muddy to where it goes from giving you that “antiqued” texture to being somewhat frustrating to the ear.”

    You hit the nail on the head with this one. I’m a fan and met them last month here in Minneapolis. You couldn’t find a more genuine couple. They’re very humble and quite easy to relate to. But, I also had this feeling that they were going to get real big real quick and I couldn’t put into words why I thought that. Your above quote sums it up. However, they do seem like they are just working with the tools they have rather than searching for that perfectly hip sound.

       0 likes

  • Cool. Can’t believe I’ve missed this band, considering their tours with big names in the underground scene. Great review! Another reader swayed to buy another album.

       1 likes

  • For the record, this is why I come here. Not much into heeding the coming supergenre apocalypse, American Idol contestants, or arguing over defining micro-genres, but you have introduced me to some great music like this. I’ll be picking up a copy and keeping my eyes peeled for a show when they make it this way.

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  • i like The Civil Wars. i’m liking this Shovels & Rope too.

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  • it’s ok. nothing i would buy. best track imho, ‘kemba’s got the cotton moth blues’.

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  • Watch this and then decide whether you will buy it or not. Also, their live shows are long, energetic, and Carry Ann is a straight up rock star!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1XMhdAGDgc

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    • nice setting. very well photographed. the dogs were having fun. i wasn’t feeling it musically. i wish them well. as a perspective, for example back in the day i didn’t buy any aerosmith or queen LPs. just sayin’.

         1 likes

  • Cary Ann did the song “Another Like You” with Hayes Carrl that was making the rounds off his last album. Cool voices.

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    • That song is badass

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  • Thanks for the review. I’ve seen em a couple of times. They put on a good show. I have their previous album…I’ll be picking this one up as well.

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  • Had a chance to hear this album at a friend’s house this weekend. Good stuff! What stands out the most to me is definitely the vocal harmonies. Something about the tonality of their two voices together blends really, really well. Great songs, too.

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  • This is terrific stuff! I just spent the afternoon listening to Caitlin Rose while baking an apple pie, and thought I’d better stop by and see what Triggerman’s dug up recently. You never disappoint!

    What is disappointing, though, is being stuck out in the Northwest Pacific. I try to shop local record stores and go out to shows, but many of the acts reviewed on SCM are based, well, not in the area. Triple digit summers aside, I’m tempted to move closer to the South/Southwest regions just to catch some of these acts live. I’m so grateful for this website/lifeline to country/roots/Americana music!

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  • Hey, can anyone help me? Where can I find their 2008 release with Gasoline being the first track on CD. I can only find it in mp3 format.

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    • I just did a quick search but it looks like Gemm.com has one copy available and Amazon Canada has two copies available. both places are selling it for about $20-$22 range. hope that helps.

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      • Thanks!

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  • I love the raw gritty sound they have in their voices and the production parallels that, IMO. First time I caught a Cary show, at the tiny, gritty Star Bar in Atlanta, I was hooked. This album sounds, smells, tastes, feels and looks like the South that I love. Just hearing it triggers all of my senses and any added production tricks would have stifled that and not let their story telling be the focus. Story telling is what I love about the Appalachian/Southeast music the most. And how about that harmonica in Carnival?? Just beautiful!

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  • [...] the more I fall in love with it. These two are now on my must-see-live list after reading this on Saving Country Music: “Michael Trent is like the rock that Cary Ann swings around as the two swap instruments in a [...]

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  • You said that they were the Civil Wars for ‘the rest of us.’ What does that mean? I love Shovels & Rope. Actually, outside of Blunderbuss I think it’s the best of the year but what’s wrong with the Wars in your opinion?

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    • That statement was more a comment on style than The Civil Wars necessarily, though I can completely understand how it could be taken that way. What I was trying to say while The Civil Wars are a slick duo that strives for perfection, Shovels & Rope purposely keep their music dirty and a little disjointed. My signature line about The Civil Wars is that they’re the Steve Vai of singing, but overall, I have no big beef with them.

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