‘I won’t fail you when I walk out on the wire,’ sing South Carolina natives Carry Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, AKA Shovels & Rope, and it’s not just talk; they really walk the walk. The husband and wife duo are veterans of a decade long career, touring, curating the excellent High Water Festival for the past few years, recording everything themselves in their home studio, and above all producing consistently brilliant music. Their latest offering ‘By Blood’ is no exception to this trend.
Known for their live performances, Hearst and Trent have managed to inject this record with a lot of the raw energy and chemistry which make their shows so enjoyable; see their NPR tiny desk concert for evidence of this. ‘By Blood’ is a cracking collection of lively, catchy songs, with a wonderful stylistic mix of authentic American folk music and driving new-wave. See especially stand out track ‘The Wire’, your next ear-worm.
Underpinning the musical shenanigans is the storytelling heart of the duo. They frequently focus on flawed characters struggling to make sense of their place in the world, who are often undone by this struggle. These sort of tragic vignettes build on a rough and ready American mythology that will be familiar to fans of the Felice Brothers, and make very engaging and enjoyable song subjects.
Above all, the duo’s chemistry really shines through and lifts every aspect of the record. The ‘blood’ of the title track is apparently a message to their young daughter about the unbreakable union of family, and this commitment certainly informs the record in a deep way. They are more than the sum of their parts; see, once again, some videos of live performances, where Hearst and Trent alone manage to muster the energy and presence of a six-piece band, whilst retaining the intimacy of a duo. The recordings don’t quite capture all the energy of a live performance, but this is a notoriously hard thing to achieve so it’s hard to fault them for it.
Overall, this is an honest, authentic, and thoroughly enjoyable piece of work from two musicians who have a lot to say, and say it with style to boot.