New Music Monday: Shovels & Rope

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By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

Fans of Dolly Parton, Neko Case, and the Lumineers, listen up: Shovels & Rope are going to make you swoon to the floor. The Charleston, SC-based husband-and-wife duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst make the sort of timeless alt-country that would be equally contextual in 1975 or 2015. However, don't think that Shovels & Rope are just another down-home treat — their taut, harmony-rich confections hide razor blades of punk rock within, as Michael Bialas of the Huffington Post explains:

The fast-talking, wise-cracking Hearst, who at the age of 8 moved to Nashville with her mother, is more than a little bit country. Yet, her musical identity might be traced back to the Cramps' Poison Ivy and Lux Interior, not Johnny Cash and June Carter.

Calling the Cramps' pair, "the sexiest rock 'n' roll couple ever," she added, "I liked that you couldn't tell who was the boy and who was the girl."

Hearst took a John-and-Exene vocal comparison as a "wonderful compliment," saying the dynamics of X's singing-songwriting team were "a little bit more complicated" than Johnny and June's.

"We don't have an internal power struggle, but I feel like sometimes we get received that Michael is this quiet, quiet storm and I'm always jibber-jabbering," she added.

With her own bands, including Cary Ann Hearst and the Gun Street Girls ("Like the Tom Waits song"), Hearst crossed paths with Trent as far back as 2002. She developed a groupie-like crush on him and the Films, his rock group she described as "kinda like Elvis Costello-ie, Kinks-ie, glamour cowboy-looking band. Like Euro-trash, but completely Wild West."

That Euro-trash-meets-Wild-West mashup carries through beautifully to Shovels & Rope's debut album, O' Be Joyful, released last year; it's been garnering the duo some grassroots attention that is slow-burning its way worldwide. So, seriously, enough talk — just listen to "Birmingham," "Boxcar," and "The Thread," and understand why Shovels & Rope are being praised as the next big thing in alt-country. Are Shovels & Rope your new favorite act, too?