Review | Shovels & Rope - O' Be Joyful

Shovels & Rope – Birmingham

[T]he musical equal of Bonnie & Clyde, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst have been cutting their teeth in roadhouses and bars for the last few years, and have now released their second ramshackle folk journey O’ Be Joyful, under their moniker Shovels & Rope a testament to the murder balladry of their first album.  On O’ Be Joyful, the pair have expanded their sound to go along with their live shows.

The pair has a knack for spirited, “anything goes” kind of live shows that have found a way fuse folk rock, honky tonk songs that feel completely fresh, completely spur of the moment, which gives each of their shows a feeling as though you are seeing something extremely special.  That level of dynamism would be near impossible to sit down in a studio and record.  So that begs the question, how good can this album be if that’s the case?

Well, I think it is.  Hearst and Trent recorded much of O’ Be Joyful at home in 2011 during the rare downtime. They recorded in their home, their backyard, even in their van or motel rooms. The bass on the record’s opening track “Birmingham” was recorded at a Red Roof Inn near New Haven, CT and the organ solo on “Shank Hill St. was tracked in the van at approximately 70 mph somewhere on I-10 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  While sharing a bill in Louisville, KY, Amanda Shires was wrangled into the duo’s van to add fiddle parts to “Keeper” and “This Means War” in between soundcheck and showtime.  This sort of on-the-spot recording brings out that dynamic atmosphere they bring to their shows onto this record.

The album begins with “Birmingham,” which seems to very well be the ballad of Shovels & Rope, a sort of origin story for the band, a cumberland daughter and a rockamount cowboy meet, and with two broken drums and two old guitars make music together.  It’s the distinctive story of their origin and one hell of an opener. The line: “making something out of nothing with a scratch and hope | two old guitars like a shovel and a rope” seems to define this band, and couldn’t be a more perfect way to put it.  The raucous album keeps up the pace of the opener with stand outs “Keeper,” about the man / woman you don’t ever give away, the title track “O’ Be Joyful” a rocking jam with a little twang but with a little gravel in the gut.  What’s great about this album is its ability to come at you from a bunch of sides, its not an easy listener, some of these songs have some nastiness to them (see Tickin’ Bomb a dirty, sexy little blues rock number) some are a little dark (Shank Hill).  It’s an americana album that fills the needs of a fan, a new listener, and captures how exciting this band can be, and is an absolute must have.

Buy O’ Be Joyful