Shovels & Rope – ‘ O’ Be Joyful ‘

Hannah Cook spills about ‘ O’ Be Joyful ‘, the newest release from Charleston, SC-based, husband-and wife-duo, Shovels & Rope, out now on Dual Tone.

Hannah Cook

out of 10

Shovels & Rope
O' Be Joyful
Dual Tone

Everything about Shovels and Rope is unrefined. From the raspy, beat-down voices of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent to the janky dumpster kick stand that rattles subtly with each tap, nothing about them says they’re begging for your attention. Somehow they garner it anyway.

It was late May that they came to Nelsonville, Ohio for the annual music festival. The festival, lost and found within the impoverished hillside of one of Appalachia’s finest towns, seemed to represent everything that they are. For that, they played throughout the weekend three times, each performance in front of a denser crowd than the last. There was a buzz going around. “Have you seen Shovels and Rope? They’re so good, AND MARRIED! It’s adorable.”

Truth is, Shovels and Rope made me jealous. Where do I start? With their undying natural love or their rusty multi-instrumentalism that translated like a perfect circle even live? God damnit, why couldn’t I play guitar, kick drum, harmonica and sing simultaneously while looking at the man that I love straight in the eyes and mean every god damn minute of it? The two looped around their instruments casually, like standing behind that guitar or at the foot of a drum was home itself. The DIY approach seemed as authentic as they come, and I relished in the merriness despite wishing I had what they had.

O’ Be Joyful, their latest release, is kind of like that, I think. Finding enjoyment within an inevitable sinful emotion.  Finding art in poverty. Finding happiness in all that is not.

It is the imperfect state of human nature that draws this album out, finely yet clumsily detailed, on a blank pallet. Each song, from one to eleven, expresses some kind of emotion–usually different than the last and some more comprehensible than others—so that, although the listener feels at ease from the utter warmth, she also feels provoked.

The eager traveler’s kind stands tall in songs like “Birmingham” and “Kemba’s Got the Cabbage Moth Blues.” It’s not difficult to imagine the tunes busting out of a glimmering juke-box in some obscure western bar, or from the southern sand they were born. Everywhere the songs go, they transform according to their surroundings while still retaining their essence.

Gracing an entirely different realm are the somewhat sexy “Hail Hail” and “Shank Hill St.” The former’s low-toned harmonies shake with the sliding trumpets like a dance. But it’s the nonsensically gloomy lyricism of “Shank Hill St.” easing into the busted plucks of a banjo that make it seductive, oddly so.

But raw sentiment, perhaps even melancholy, has never been so finely captured than in “Lay Low” and the album finale, “This Means War.” Maybe it’s Trent’s wobbling voice tenderly wrapped in Hearst’s. Or maybe it’s the lyrics, begging for patience in love and gratefulness in life. It’s probably everything working together.

They are the kind of feelings you wouldn’t normally expect to encounter listening to a backyard batch of homemade songs coming from two kind-spirited and light-hearted people. But it is that recognition that reaps the realization that, although most things kinda suck, most things also are pretty wonderful too.

Shovels & Rope is currently on tour and will be playing dates throughout the US for the remainder of the year. Make sure to catch featured sets from them at the upcoming MidPoint Music Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio, alongside Andrew Bird, Grizzly Bear, Dinosaur Jr. and more!

 Shovels & Rope – “Birmingham” – Live on 89.3 The Current

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