Shovels & Rope | 11.03.12

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shovelropes 75These modern artists have picked up a punk-rock attitude here, a jazzy vibe there, and a more pronounced folk sensibility.

 

Saturday night at Off Broadway, Cary Ann Hearst of Shovels & Rope quipped that it was a “Family Planning Tour,” referencing the other half of her duo, husband Michael Trent, and the spouses in their opening act Shivering Timbers, Sarah and Jayson Benn. I feel the need to thank the agents of karma and the stars for aligning to bring both of these couples together because, to be totally and completely clichéd, they make beautiful music together.

Shivering Timbers are all heavy mood and vibrant vocals. Jayson Benn is a damn fine guitarist and adds some grit to balance the sweetness of Sarah’s vocals. Sarah is completely captivating on the double bass, swaying with it and dancing around it as she plays. I had not heard of them before the show but it did not take long to make me a fan. They merge folk music with a touch of gospel and a dark and smooth, jazzy vibe. Then the intensity picks up and the sound becomes very Jefferson Airplane-esque, especially in songs like “Holly Holy” from their LP Sing Sing. Speaking of Jefferson Airplane, there is something distinctly ’70s about Shivering Timbers; from the artwork on their albums and t-shirts, to the luscious sounds they are producing and the look of the band. I was really kind of jonesing on her whole look and outfit: a simple black mini-dress with sheer bell sleeves, fringed tan suede boots, and long, dangly chain earrings with feathers. (Sorry to get all girly-girl on you there.)

What I was not thrilled about was the behavior of the crowd. Folks, the talking was out of hand and just downright rude. At the beginning of the evening I was up in the balcony and realized that was a bad move, since that’s the appropriate place to be if you are just there for background music to accompany your conversations. However, I moved down to the floor and it was even worse. People weren’t just talking, they were yelling at each other—over quiet love songs. It was out of control and it made me cringe. I wish people could get over themselves and show some respect.

It got a little better during Shovels & Rope, but there were several of us throwing the evil eye around at the chatters all night long. I have a suggestion to the management of our local venues: Introduce the bands and give a simple etiquette reminder. As a matter of fact, on Shovels & Rope’s LP O’ Be Joyful, there is a track that begins with a club owner doing this exact thing in his introduction of the band. It sets a tone and an expectation of behavior. Anyone who’d get pissed off about being told not to talk during a performance needs to hand over their ticket to someone who appreciates it and go talk their fool head off elsewhere.

I digress—that blemish on the night was the only one. Let me just tell you, Shovels & Rope are one hell of a good time! One part old-school country, one part traditional folk, one part punk and one part rock, these two are a perfect storm onstage. Hearst’s got a raspy voice and a sparkle in her eye. Trent is at once both laidback and simmering with energy. It’s a beautiful thing to watch how they interact onstage. It’s especially fun that they play everything like separate “one-man-band machines” that have merged. I especially loved the tambourine, tied to the kick drum with bandanas to be hit with the drumstick. You can’t help but stomp your feet and clap your hands along with them, adding to the percussion.

I was so happy to have songs I have absolutely fallen in love with, like “Shank Hill Street” and “Hail, Hail,” performed two feet away from me. The perfect ending to the night’s set was their encore of “Lay Low”; I cannot even put into words how much I love that song. It is one of the most bare-to-the-bones, raw, and exposed songs I have ever heard. I highly recommend that you track down the recording of them performing it together at this year’s Pickathon Festival. What Shovels & Rope are especially good at in their compositions is pacing and spacing, and leaving a little room to let a word or a phrase have some room to breathe.

I just want to end by emphatically stating that I think these are the people the Grand Ol’ Opry was built for. I don’t have much love or respect for most of what’s been hogging the floorboards there for the last few decades. Honestly, I’d like nothing more than to see what passes today as “country music” (which is actually just pop music with a twang) to be shoved to the side and for bands of this caliber to call the stage home again and take over the country station airwaves. A girl can dream, right?

Along with contemporaries like Justin Townes Earle, The Avett Brothers, Neko Case, Drive by Truckers, Joe Pug, and Gillian Welch, both Shivering Timbers and Shovels & Rope are proof that country music is alive and well. These modern artists have picked up a punk-rock attitude here, a jazzy vibe there, and a more pronounced folk sensibility. However, there is an obvious respect for the greats of the past and their roots are still in mountain music. The heart of their sound is still pure Americana. | Janet Rhoads

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