April 18, 2024

Shovels & Rope – “Little Seeds”     is as authentic as you can get

NEW WEST RECORDS                      7th October 2016

Americana is a broad church and I see this husband and wife duo grouped under its umbrella but this is something less rootsy (though it grew from the same soil) and more timeless. This has elements of rock and roll – like the echoey drums yet is most definitely non-traditional while being deeply authentic. Authentic is the word for this band; there’s a sense of the real in every track. It’s as simple as it can be – guitar, drums, voices, occasional mouth organ – but constructed into tight songs and there’s no dressing up in the studio – still the sound of two musicians. This was recorded at home in South Carolina and the fanciest it gets is the odd bit of double-tracking, making for a very real sound.

Nearly every song has twinned simultaneous boy / girl vocals, making a curious and winning effect. I Know is sung to a ligger / hanger on and features mega-heavy drum stomp and glam fuzz. Suzi Quatro would probably love it. Botched Execution is a hard-boiled murder story ala Johnny Cash, turned into an upbeat swinging dance of menace. St Anne’s Parade is, by contrast, a drumless ballad. “Never feels we’re getting older but the memories build up around the eyes”. The Last Hawk has compelling drums, shades of the White Stripes, as they sing of the memory of Woodstock. Buffalo Nickel has fuzz guitar, crunch breaks at the end of lines, heavy drums and we hear the voices separate for some sweet harmony effects. To top it, a distorted slow guitar solo stutters and bleeds. Invisible Man is part conversation, part explosive, part a tale – all infectious.

The duo are Cary Ann Heart and Michael Trent and these are true stories, inspired by and drawn from their lives. Johnny Come Outside relentlessly pounds on with a tale about an over-medicated kid divorced from his emotions – never high and never sad – and Missionary Man is a tale of the US Civil War – with a mandolin, of course. The album turns a corner with BWYR, an almost nursery rhyme piece about black lives, white lives, yellow and red. It’s strangely affecting and conjures up the fear of guns and a sense of unity. A late-night family reminiscence about shared humanity and birth takes us into This Ride; a gorgeous hymn to the joy and pain of being alive. Close-miked, accompanied by a gentle strum and handclaps, it sings of loneliness, effort, love and thrills. It’s a spiritual companion to Ewan MacColl’s The Joy Of Living.

This is a very real album, not only full of real emotions but energy, spirit and spunk.

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