by Paul Bowers
Shovels & Rope's boot-scootin', rabble-rousin', hard-honky-tonkin' album O' Be Joyful just picked up another laurel, coming in at No. 3 on American Songwriter's Top 50 Albums of 2012 list.
The magazine features bands and artists in the singer-songwriter, alt-country, neo-folk vein, and the Pour House favorites Shovels & Rope are in rarefied air at the top of the list. For perspective, the only two albums that the magazine liked better this year were by Bob Dylan and Neil Young. And O' Be Joyful came in just ahead of this year's releases by Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen.
Watch out, Mumford & Sons (No. 8, Babel).
It's been a heck of a year for Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, the married duo who formed Shovels & Rope after establishing their own reputations for writing wicked murder ballads and unpolished gems about love, death, and alcohol. The album, which borrows its title from a dangerous battlefield drink invented by Confederate soldiers in the Civil War, earned a heap of praises from No Depression, Huffington Post, USA Today, and even the Wall Street Journal when it was released on Dualtone Records in July. Oh yeah, and City Paper readers gave them the nod for Song of the Year ("Birmingham"), Country Band of the Year, Album of the Year, and Singer-Songwriter of the Year (for Hearst) in the City Paper Music Awards.
In the American Songwriter list, the critic compares them favorably to coed duos like She & Him and the Civil Wars, but with an important distinction:
Instead of the graceful choreography of trading off between lead and supporting vocal roles, on O’ Be Joyful Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent tend to attack their robustly tuneful melodies and harmonies with equal and simultaneous force, coming off more as comrades than typical paramours. They’re no courtly couple—they’re visceral garage rockers who genuinely work up a sweat, and who didn’t feel it necessary to dress up their stomping, primitive grooves or no-frills production.
Hearst and Trent say they try not to read the reviews, but this one is a hearty pat on the back that's hard to ignore.