Tag Archives: shovels & rope

Album Review – Shovels & Rope’s “Swimmin’ Time”

090114mBeatsReview2_GL

The music world has known its fair share of unforgettable husband-wife duos, from Johnny and June to Jack and Meg. Two years ago, the Charleston-based married duo Shovels & Rope — consisting of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst — exploded onto the festival scene with an unharnessed charisma and on-stage animalistic magnetism that left audiences floored. With non-stop touring and sweat-drenched performances, Trent and Hearst continue to prove that they belong among the ranks of great married musical duos.

Last month, Shovels & Rope offered up more of their soulful, folk-country flair with the duo’s new album, “Swimmin’ Time,” a nautical narrative of love and loss, drenched in haunting harmonies and stripped-down, simple arrangements. On “Swimmin’ Time,” Trent and Hearst dive deep into the abyss of emotion to give listeners a glimpse into their passionate, personal voyage.

The album opens with “The Devil Is All Around,” a vivid gospel-rock love song. With eyes closed, lyrics come to life and the listener can envision Trent and Hearst fighting through life’s obstacles together — ‘til death does part them. “Bridge On Fire” feels like a 50s throwback with a drum-rich tempo and deliberate harmonious crescendos, leaving a trail of burnt hopes and dreams in its ashy wake.

“Evil” turns up the rock ‘n’ roll and perpetuates the album’s devilish theme, with confessions of violent and ugly sins that drip with an honesty strong enough to tear down facades. “After The Storm” starts to pick up the wreckage from the first three tracks and highlights the power of Shovels & Rope’s magically interwoven vocals. Though the bulk of the track stays low and slow, it truly shines in the chorus’ momentous waves and surges of beautiful, yet guttural cries.

“Fish Assassin” is a playful but quick stomp-clapper that brings listeners to the muddy banks of intercostal waterways. “Coping Mechanism” gives listeners a current spin on a 50s rock ‘n’ roll standard, with bouncy background keys and delta blues overtones. “Pinned” leans on Shovels & Rope’s country-folk foundations and translates as a timeless duet about broken promises, cheating and unsolicited advice.

The title track, “Swimmin’ Time” buoys to the surface with church choir intensity and ghostly sink-or-swim premonitions, conjuring up buried thoughts of an apocalyptic flood. In line with the aquatic theme, “Stono River Blues” pays tribute to the waterway that flows near the duo’s home, and evokes images of Trent and Hearst exploring the tidal channel’s nooks and crannies. While the track can certainly be taken literally, metaphors are strategically anchored throughout, giving it a depth that is commonly found in Shovels & Rope songwriting.

“Ohio” takes listeners on a trip down to the murky waters of Louisiana with blazing horns and a gritty outlaw story. The brassy sway of “Ohio” adds another layer of sound to the album, giving it an even more interesting acoustic texture. “Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan” is a playful, diner love story filled with faith and potential. “Save The World” follows suit with a positivity and sweetness that permeates the energy and love often seen on stage between Trent and Hearst.

The album comes to a close with “Thresher,” a homage to the USS Thresher (SSN-593), a nuclear-powered attack submarine that was lost at sea off the coast of Cape Cod in 1963. The track chronicles the last minutes for the 129 submariners upon the vessel. With moments of faint, garbled communications and fading sonar pings to carry out the track, Shovels & Rope recreates the sinking with an eerie authenticity. Ending the album with “Thresher” leaves listeners mournful and uneasy, but also forces introspective and empathetic thought. It represents the duo’s intention and intensity like no other song on the album.

“Swimmin’ Time” may just be one of this year’s best albums. In an age when listeners can pick and choose tracks from any album, track order and album themes seem to get lost in the iTunes shuffle. However, “Swimmin’ Time” is an album that needs to be listened to from start to finish, in order. Trent and Hearst have created an emblematic masterpiece that is greater than the sum of its parts. Collectively, the album floats above the rest while maintaining a depth of soul and spirit that can shine through the thickest, foggy night. “Swimmin’ Time” sails effortlessly across the most critical of ears and marks another success in Shovels & Rope’s musical passage.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Review

Show Review – Hurray For the Riff Raff w/Shovels & Rope @ Cat’s Cradle 3-5-2014

040114mHurray

Every now and then an artist emerges on the music scene who creates buzz and provokes conversation. Bronx-native Alynda Lee Segarra is that artist. From her vagabond train-hopping days with Dead Man Street Orchestra to her breakout performance at last year’s Newport Folk Festival, the world is finally taking notice of this gifted folk singer-songwriter.

After traveling and performing across the nation, Segarra found her musical center in New Orleans amid the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Where she never quite felt at home in NYC, the Lower Ninth Ward community took in her rambling soul and Segarra found inspiration to stay and make music.

Segarra soon found a group of musicians who shared a similar passion for writing and performing songs that spoke to social injustice, challenged political power, and revealed modern day issues that had been swept under the rug. They called themselves the “riff raff,” which eventually led to the formation of Hurray for the Riff Raff, of which Segarra stands at the helm.

Last month, Hurray for the Riff Raff took to the stage at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro as the supporting act to South Carolina’s sweetheart duo Shovels & Rope. While most in attendance were there to see the rowdy lovestruck pair, many left with a new appreciation for Segarra and her band of riff raff.

With Gibson in hand, Segarra took the stage. Petite in stature and draped in a black lace dress, the soulful songstress started the set solo by performing “The New SF Bay Blues.” The curious crowd listened intently to her timeless voice and simple finger picking. They quickly realized they were witnessing something that softly demanded attention.

Segarra then welcomed her four-piece band to the stage, and they treated the audience to tracks from their new album, “Small Town Heroes,” including the toe-tapping “Blue Ridge Mountain,” homesick homage “Crash on the Highway,” fun-loving bayou jam “End of the Line,” and gender-flipped murder ballad, “The Body Electric.” Segarra was candid and chatty with the crowd, telling stories and setting up each song — a quality that all concert goers appreciate and yearn for to feel more connected to the artist and songs.

As Segarra bridged the gaps between her songs, the venue felt less and less like a black box and more like a backyard hootenanny. It was with little to no effort that Segarra transformed the stage into her front porch and exposed listeners to the magic of her songwriting. The set closed with fan-favorite “Little Black Star,” where the band called upon the audience to join in with synchronized claps and snaps, further drawing the sold-out crowd into the riff raff fold.

After a sweat-drenched, energized set by Shovels & Rope, Segarra returned to the stage to join Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent for their encore performance of J. Roddy Walston and the Business’ song “Boys Can Never Tell.” With Hearst on the drums, Trent on guitar and Segarra at the center mic, the trio closed out a special evening of music with a genuine mutual admiration that was evident all the way to Franklin Street.

As Hurray for the Riff Raff carry on its U.S. tour, Segarra will continue to grow into a modern day folk icon, whether she likes it or not. Her essence dates back to the days when Greenwich Village was alive with folk music and people toted around acoustic guitars on their backs. Those were the days of Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, where music was powerful enough to rally people and create change. With Seeger’s recent passing, Segarra steps into the spotlight as someone to carry the torch and keep the movement going well into the future.

For those who may have missed the Cat’s Cradle show, Hurray for the Riff Raff will return to North Carolina on April 10 to play at Local 506 in Chapel Hill. This will sell out, so plan accordingly. All riff raff is welcome.

040114mHurray2

Leave a comment

Filed under Live Shows, Review