Shovels and Rope: O’ Be Joyful

Shovels and Rope, O Be JoyfulShovels and Rope: O’ Be Joyful
Perennial scrappers and StGA underdog favorites Shovels and Rope have returned from a whirlwind recording session with a new gem of Ameri-trash country-blues. As the name would imply the 11 tracks on O’ Be Joyful offer something of a departure from their self-titled debut. The old hallmarks fans have come to expect from Shovels and Rope are still there, the desperate intense vocalizing of Ms. Carry Ann Hearst soars over the traditional instrumentation, while Michael Trent’s destructively dry and self-antagonizing lyricism acts as counterbalance keeping his wife and partner from floating away from pure joy. However, the critical success garnered by the group’s relentless touring combined with the lost art of approachable country song writing might have had an undercurrent of inspiration for this recording.
One familiar with the group can’t help but note the contradiction contained within this project. For instance, compare the southern gothic hopeless and homeless tracks like “Boxcar,” or “Build Around Your Heart a Wall,” from their first release to the more upbeat yet still hungry recent tracks like “Hail Hail,” a generous ode to Rock ‘n Roll featuring muddy jazz horn-work reminiscent of rotgut Bourbon St. holidays or “Keeper,” a sentimental remembrance of rebellion and young love.
O’ Be Joyful features the usual cast of characters that might have been drawn from any Faulkner novel. Shovels and Rope has the rare ability to write about rounders and cut-throats, the trampled and lonely without paying the half-hearted lip service we’ve come to expect from the more established country-western impersonators. And perhaps it’s the very lack of Nashville that gives S&H such a genuine and arresting sound.
O’ Be Joyful’s first track, “Birmingham,” does a great deal to explain the origins and ambition of this group. In Ms. Carry Ann Hearst’s own words: “That night, it occurred to us that we two should just be a band. Using whatever was laying around- junky old drums, a coupla guitars, and our voices and the stories we could tell. It didn’t happen all in one night, but we left Birmingham with 100 bucks and the van the Films used to tour in, thinking to ourselves, we can go for it if we wanted to.”
The sophomore album is often the weakest of any band’s career. Most musicians have about twenty five years to make their first album, but less than a year for their second. Success only multiplies this pressure. On O’ Be Joyful, Shovels and Rope have proven their sound is no novelty, and for an authentic slice of Americana, one need look no further.
Rating: 8.2/10
MP3: Shovels and Rope “Cavalier”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl