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Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Shovels and Rope is an indie folk duo consisting of married singer-songwriters Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. Like Trent, who played with the indie rock band the Films, Hearst had spent the years prior pursuing a solo career. She utilized her raw yet melodious and expressive voice to deliver a handful of albums, one of which landed a single, “Hell’s Bells,” in the 2010 season of the television series True Blood. Inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and the Cramps as well as the soulful harmonies of Johnny Cash and June Carter, the pair provided tour support for like-minded artists, such as Justin Townes Earle, Hayes Carll, and the Felice Brothers, before heading into the studio to lay down the tracks for their debut.
The resulting product, O’ Be Joyful, which channels country, bluegrass, and blues through a nervy indie rock prism, was released in 2012. The album fared well with critics and roots music fans, and at the 2013 Americana Music Honors and Awards, Shovels and Rope was named “Best Emerging Artist.” The duo’s second album, Swimmin’ Time, was released in August 2014. That year also saw the premiere of the documentary about the couple, called The Ballad of Shovels and Rope, which won the Tennessee Spirit Award at the Nashville Film Festival. In November 2015, Shovels and Rope released Busted Jukebox, Volume 1, in which the duo covered songs by their favorite artists in collaboration with other musicians they admired, including Shakey Graves, the Milk Carton Kids, JD McPherson, Butch Walker, and others. Shovels and Rope signed with noted indie label New West Records in 2016 for the release of their fifth album, Little Seeds.
Hearst and Trent have spent the last few years establishing themselves among the premier practitioners of Americana, and they’ve done it as a cottage industry, writing, recording and performing everything themselves and hitting the road as a self-contained band, passing guitars and percussion back and forth onstage like a pair of expert jugglers.
Their signature harmonies shift constantly, never quite repeating any passage the same way, and the narratives enthrall with striking details.