by Paul Bowers
Shovels & Rope have been touring relentlessly this summer, but whenever they come back to Charleston, they get a big, sweaty welcome home. At Saturday night's Pour House show, a CD release party for the duo's latest album, O' Be Joyful, the crowd packed out the sweltering-hot bar and swooned as Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst stripped to their undershirts and ripped through a set with accompaniment from a backing band of Shrimp Records artists.
But the love isn't only coming from the Lowcountry. Nationwide, media outlets are talking up the band's rootsy, unhinged brand of alt-country boogie, and it's getting harder and harder to schedule an interview with the ever-modest songwriting couple from Johns Island. American Songwriter jumped on the bandwagon early, writing after the June release of the lead single "Birmingham" that the band was making "a rough-and-tumble kind of folk music, the kind of gorgeous, down-home stuff that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings might've done if they'd skipped music school and learned the ropes in roadhouses instead."
No Depression writer Melissa Ruth caught the band's July 31 show in Cottage Grove, Ore. Referring to the song "Birmingham," she wrote, "When they played that tune last night at the Axe, I tell you, not only the bar but Birmingham itself caught fire."
"Shovels and Rope conjure up the ghosts in bowlers of the old South and fresh ink upon the breast of the new West," she wrote. "And boy howdy, are they joyful."
Huffington Post reporter Michael Bialas said the band's 11 new songs "include double shots full of piss and vinegar" and declared that some of the tracks belong in a Coen Brothers film soundtrack (O Brother, Where Art Thou 2, anyone?). The band was even featured in The Wall Street Journal, in a lifestyle piece about life as a married musical duo and pursuing "the long, slow dollar," as Hearst put it to the reporter.
Perhaps the highest praise of all came in an Aug. 11 column by USA Today's Nashville music critic Brian Mansfield, who was recently diagnosed with colon cancer at age 48. At the end of a piece about his day-to-day struggles and joys, he included O' Be Joyful on a list of five albums "that make me want to live," alongside releases from Bonnie Raitt and Dr. John.
"Cancer has changed the way I hear music, more than any other life event except my marriage," Mansfield wrote. "Songs I once appreciated only on a surface level now strike deep at the core of my soul. Some inspire me; some terrify me."
Well, what do you think? Is it safe to say Shovels & Rope have hit the big time?
Oh, and if you want to know how much the City Paper loved the new album, you can read the review right here.