Published on August 17th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
Shovels and Rope – O’ Be Joyful
Shovels and Rope is the husband and wife team of Michael Trent from The Films and Cary Ann Heart (she had a song on True Blood a couple of years back). ‘O’ Be Joyful’ is their 2nd album, though the first under this exact moniker. Hailing from Southern Carolina, signed to Jack White’s record label, they deliver an authentic mash of bluegrass, blues, gospel, and throw-your-beer-bottle-at-the-chicken-wire-stage bar rock. They call themselves ‘sloppy tonk.’
At its high points, ‘O’ Be Joyful’ is a Johnny and June-style, hootin’ and hollerin’ album of unruly family jams, with some witty lyrics and wonderfully messy harmonies. Trent wisely lays back in the cut a lot, providing a jump off point for Heart’s raw, but innocent pipes.
‘Birmingham’ is a standout track, and apparently, the story of how they met. The lyrics are clever, but seem spontaneous — knowing how to tell a good story is a hallmark of the genre, and they excel. There’s even some Springsteen creeping in here, and in fact, they previously released a 7-inch that featured a cover of ‘Johnny 99,’ ‘Nebraska’ being a welcome touch point (the B-side is a cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Bad as Me’).
Part of the spirit of the album seems to come from the fact that some of it was recorded on the road, including laying down some murder ballad organ in the back of a van somewhere between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The rest was recorded at home, which must account for some of the warm intimacy, even when they’re throwing down.
When the songs aren’t kicking your ass, they’re nice enough. There might be a lull or two in a couple of places, but they’ve set the bar pretty high with ‘Birmingham’ and the boisterous, ‘Hail, Hail.’ And they’re so talented that they’re not really capable of too much album filler. I was lucky to stumble across this one, and ‘Birmingham’ is gonna be stuck in my head for days.