Friday, January 8, 2010

Cary Ann Hearst & Michael Trent

I spent the better part of the past week in Charleston, SC, and in between trips to Waffle House I managed to catch some live music and get recommendations on local artists. I left with a strong general appreciation for the city's music scene, but what really captured my heart was Shovels & Rope, the late-'08 record by husband-and-wife (then fiancé-et-fiancée) duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent.

In moving harmonies over stomping beats, Hearst and Trent tell classic country tales populated by priests, thieves and prostitutes. Their raucous ditties and solemn dirges are rooted in acoustic guitar but outfitted with banjo, harmonica, tambourine and the like, and the recording suits the nature of the songs and instrumentation perfectly. And it doesn't hurt that you can tell they had a damned good time making the whole thing.

"Boxcar" tells of an outlaw couple's life together on the lam coming to an end. "Build Around Your Heart a Wall" is a good old-fashioned murder ballad featuring Trent on lead vocals accompanied, as usual, by Hearst's harmonies, as well as some singing saw.

"1200 Miles" is my favorite track on the record. It's a playful, rollicking back-and-forth between exasperated lovers that originally appeared in a more polished and less effective version on Hearst's solo album. It benefits here from the added irony that it's now Hearst's fiancé to whom she proposes, "Well come on honey, let's stitch it up tight / Be my husband, let me be your wife / We'll be together every day and night / We'll have a miserable life."

Shovels & Rope is available at CDBaby.

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