Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are the husband and wife duo who make up the South Carolina act Shovels & Rope. Their sound is best described as a distinctly American mix of rock-based down and dirty country, blues, and folk. Their latest album, Little Seeds, finds Trent and Hearst lyrically exploring everything from Civil War battles of the past to the Black Lives Matter movement of the present. Utilizing a raw sound that includes everything from smash-and-crash bar room stompers to mandolin ballads, Little Seeds delivers a baker’s dozen tracks that spin heartwarming narratives about life and personalities, all expertly brought to vivid reality via the southern accent-tinged golden throats of the wonderful, harmonizing pair.
The crunchy chords and subtle feedback of the album’s opener, “I Know”, has Michael and Cary Ann taking their musical peers to task, boldly accusing colleagues of stealing sounds and styles. Over a fast-driving rhythm that cleverly matches the anxiousness of the story and hurriedly sung lyrics, “Botched Execution” tells the tale of a death row inmate on the run. The cinematic, chill-inducing “Buffalo Nickel” introduces a honky-tonk piano into a brilliant mix that includes a hard-hitting drum and snare combination, distorted guitar, and a soaring bridge that builds irresistible tension before Trent and Hearst fall into a gloriously satisfying chorus.
Whether they’re singing about a shy boy (“Johnny Come Outside”) or traveling to California (“San Andreas Fault Line Blues”), song after song, Michael and Cary Ann manage to breathe a unique identity into each track, stunningly laying out an instantly identifiable feeling within each empathetic anecdote. Amidst handclaps and an acoustic guitar, Little Seeds’ brief penultimate track, “Eric’s Birthday”, has a woman charmingly describing having to give birth in a police car just before the song gently slides into the album’s final moment, the spectacular capper “This Ride”. If this last song’s lyrics, an obvious analogy about life, don’t at the very least bring a smile to your face, then you haven’t been paying attention. Shovels & Rope’s album Little Seeds is a near masterpiece from beginning to end. What a ride indeed.