(this piece was published by Planet JH Weekly)
Throwing back a beer with Cary Ann Hearst in Charleston, South Carolina at the Tin Roof in 2010, Shovels & Rope was not yet the chosen band name of her project with now-husband, Michael Trent. This name that they had given their first collaborative album together in 2008 would become their blue collar, down-home moniker.
In retrospect, hanging out at the Tin Roof was apropos. The ramshackle dive bar where Hearst and Trent played some of their first shows together is an important landmark in the Shovels & Rope backstory. The venue even got some screen time in the video accompanying their Americana Song of the Year, “Birmingham,” from the breakout album O’ Be Joyful. The duo would also take Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2013 Americana Awards, followed by an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman.
Fortunately for Jackson fans – and there are a lot of them – Shovels and Rope is arguably and artistically at their peak. With the summer release of Swimmin’ Time (which debuted at #123 on the Billboard200) also came a mainstream media onslaught that reminds me of The Avett Brothers’ coming out party. Let’s assume it’s for these reasons, ultimately, that their publicist cancelled two scheduled interviews on short notice with yours truly (“they had a rough day,” “they are sensitive and fragile artists,” “their time is limited and they don’t do many interviews so we would be lucky to get them”). Luckily (pun intended) for all of the parties involved, this writer is still not fazed. Shovels & Rope is making some of the most raucously beautiful, sincere music of a generation, and doing it on their own terms—an indie band homerun success story.
“We’re just a couple of ragamuffins doing our thing, and there was this trajectory going on outside of our periphery,” Trent told HitFix in September.
For over a decade, separately and together, Trent and Hearst had paralleled the trials and tribulations of most DIY touring bands—a no frills, in-the-trenches balance of