What We’re Hearing: Shovel and Rope’s “O’ Be Joyful”

That grinning-from-ear-to-ear feeling you get about a great record ends up doing two things: listening to said record over and over for months in classic binge fashion, and also bludgeoning your friends with it. I’ve spoken about this phenomenon before.

Cary Ann Hearst and her partner in crime, Michael Trent make up the South Carolinian (and/or Charlestonian) machine known as Shovels and Rope. They’ve been touring tirelessly for years, but O’ Be Joyful is actually the first record they’ve released as Shovels and Rope (their website’s FAQ section still says that’s not the band name).

Every review and fan will tell you about their “dusty junkyard” sound; only one guitar and one partially-assembled drum set.

Albeit true, Shovels and Rope are using only what they need and nothing they don’t. Hearst and Trent are impossibly perfect for one another; their voices fit like puzzle pieces (the correct ones) and the arrangements are a product of simplistic pop genius with a southern honk. The opening track “Birmingham” is autobiographical, filled with dusty imagery alongside tales of Hearst and Trent growing up and touring. “O’ Be Joyful”, the title track, starts off like an Exile on Main Street B-side, and Cary Ann’s vocals are the so pleasantly gritty, they’d make Lucinda Williams blush.

This record has plenty of Shovel and Rope’s signature foot-stompers, but down-tempo tunes like “Lay Low” and “Carnival” are where the aforementioned puzzle-piece harmonies and the sparse instrumentation build a perfect canvas to keep your attention from anything other than the music.

My dad always said there’s genius in simplicity. It’s truly something special when two people can do so much with so little. O’ Be Joyful is one of those records that my friends will hear too much. You can pick up on vinyl or CD at your local record store or snag the digital version on iTunes.  —-^MilesP

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  • Alex Ezell

    I took the FAQ about the name to mean that it wasn’t “Ropes” as in it’s singular and not plural.