Shovels & Rope, 400 Bar, Minneapolis, MN, 11/7/12

[Regrettably, Correspondent Gebippe left his trusty smartphone at home for this show, so you’ll just have to close your eyes and conjure up your own images. But then, you can’t read the review with your eyes closed, now can you? Hmmm.]

It was the night after the election and most of us in this part of the country were in an upbeat mood. What better way to celebrate the outcome than to go out and hear live music? For 10,000 or so souls, that meant taking in the big arena show in St. Paul, featuring Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler. For 200 of us, however, the husband-wife duo known as Shovels & Rope was the ticket.

Thanks to extensive touring and widespread festival exposure, South Carolina-based Shovels & Rope (Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst) have been rising Americana/roots music stars in the five years since their first album was released. Distinguishing themselves from other popular duos (Black Keys, White Stripes), Trent and Hearst both play guitar, harp, keys and drums, switching off instruments as the songs dictate. Drawing on their rich Southern musical heritage, Shovels & Rope combine elements of country blues, hillbilly string band, folk and rock ‘n roll – sometimes within the same song. The result is an engaging, crowd-pleasing mix of beat-heavy uptempo numbers and passionate ballads, all delivered with sincerity and conviction.

Taking the stage at the 400 Bar, S & R were quick to sound a conciliatory note. “We’d like to do a unity song,” announced Michael Trent, before launching into a slowed down (and apparently unrehearsed) version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” The mix was terrible initially, with Michael’s guitar over-amped and Cary Ann Hearst’s vocal woefully under-miked. Fortunately, balance was restored for “Boxcar,” introduced by Cary Ann as “The first song we ever wrote together.” The ballad employs a Bonnie and Clyde outlaw-lovers-on-the-run metaphor, showcasing the couple’s signature harmonies. Ad-libbing from their set list, Hearst & Trent covered material from both Shovels & Rope releases, as well as their own individual albums over the course of their two-hour long show. The selections ran the gamut from a murder ballad (“Shank Hill St.,” from the new release, “O’ Be Joyful”), to a waltz (“Mexico,” from their 2007 eponymous album) to a self-described “folk song” (Michael Trent’s “When I . . .” from his 2009 solo album, “The Winner”), to Cary Ann’s country lament, “Who’s Gonna Raise These Babies? from her own solo release, 2011’s “Lions & Lambs.” In between, they mixed in a hoedown (“Kemba’s Got The Cabbage Moth Blues”), a rock ‘n roll anthem (“Hail Hail”), and perhaps the only song in the last 100 years to include the word “chifforobe” (“Magdelina”).

Through it all, Trent’s tenor voice complemented Hearst’s rich alto splendidly, regardless of the context. All in all, a joyous night of music and a fine way to celebrate the – merciful! – end of the campaign season. O’ Be Joyful indeed!

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