by Chris Familton
Country couples have always been an integral part of the genre with the likes of Johnny Cash and June Carter, George Jones and Tammy Wynette and more recently Gillian Welch and David Rawlings mixing business and pleasure. South Carolina duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent continue that lineage as Shovels & Rope with a collection of suitably rough-edged country songs that brawl and serenade in equal quantities.
The biggest drawcard on O’ Be Joyful is the voice of Hearst which is a powerful instrument full of tender ache and a gravelly burr. Sounding similar to both Loretta Lynn and Kasey Chambers, she is the real deal when it comes to getting loose and reckless on songs like the title track and then tearing at bittersweet heart-strings on Carnival, a tale of abandoned love accompanied by some wonderful harmonica playing. Not to be outdone, Trent also possesses an impressive voice, particularly on Lay Low where he sings in a low-key sleepy style.
What makes this album work so well is the stylistic variety they bring to the music. It runs the gamut from stomping barroom hoedowns to the bluesy groove of Shank Hill St. and This Means War, the gospel-framed folk song that closes the record. This ensures Shovels & Rope will find fans from both the traditional country fan-base as well as those entering from the contemporary americana side of the corral. It all comes together most effectively on the opener Birmingham, a perfect a summation of the duo’s talents and a song that immediately sounds like a readymade classic. O’ Be Joyful stands out as a strong candidate for the best americana album of 2012.
this review was first published in Drum Media