Until Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent walked on stage as the opening act for Jason Isbell and Hayes Carll this past Saturday night, I’d never heard of either of them – or their band Shovels & Rope – before. But once Cary Ann opened her mouth I was immediately hooked.
Some cross between the offspring of Dolly Parton and a relation of Neko Case fronting back-woods-White Stripes-stripped-down-goodness, Shovels & Rope clicked into high gear from the first pounded beat on the barely-there drum kit. Cary Ann’s voice swings effortlessly between sweet, pure country and ballsy swagger. When Cary Ann swapped places with Michael, and lead vocals and guitar for drum kit, I was disappointed, but just for a moment – she beat just as hard on the drums, their intertwining voices beautifully propelling the set on. It doesn’t happen often that an audience is so immediately engaged by an opening act that the chatter drops and everyone moves forward. Lesser acts than those following would have had cause for concern.
Jump to a few days later, the ‘Shovels & Rope!!!’ sticky note on my computer screen still unheeded, that voice once again grabbed me. I’d stumbled on Cary Ann’s latest album, “Lions & Lambs,” on Shrimp Records. Not as raucous as Shovels & Rope live, covering some gentler bases – including Spectre-ish girl-group pop of “Are You Ready To Die” and the rag timey “American Made Machine” – many tracks sound both plucked from the past and thoroughly contemporary. Cary Ann’s voice brings a tremendous emotional depth and nuance to songs about outlaws, renegades, struggling families, and broken loves. It’s also worth noting that Michael Trent plays on this record and the second track, “Hell’s Bells,” was a particularly incendiary track in the Shovels & Rope set.
Do yourself a favor, save some time, skip the song below and just go buy this!
The Hardest Thing
Buy the Cary Ann Hearst’s “Lions & Lambs”: CD Baby
Check out Michael Trent’s latest album, “The Winner”: CD Baby
And the first Shovels & Rope LP from 2008: Amazon