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Album Review: Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time

3 min read

Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are a married couple, but there is more to the South Carolina based pair; together they are American folk duo, Shovels & Rope. They compose music combining influences derived from each of their solo careers to deliver a mixture of folk/country/rock and roll, a sound they have been masterfully crafting since their formation in 2008 and the release of their debut self-titled album. What wasn’t intended to be a permanent act became a staple in their lives; it’s been two years since their sophomore effort O’ Be Joyful was unleashed, now Shovels & Rope return with their third instalment, Swimmin’ Time.

Shovels & Rope - Swimmin' TimeLead single The Devil Is All Around is introduced by the pair’s vocals, this song proves there is more to Shovels & Rope’s chemistry than a strong marital bond; they are married to their music, they compliment each other perfectly in this track, which comes off as rough but sweet. Don’t let the light hearted sound of Bridge On Fire fool you, the lyrics burn quite an image in your brain about a journey taken by the weary protagonist who walks away from their current life, whilst sporting some of the most intriguing harmonies; the album gets a little heavier with the intense dynamic of Evil, the vocals are sung in a sinister manner to match the concept, the drums and guitar riff also assist to make the track sound a little rough on the edges. After The Storm brings the vibe down to a sentimental note, the words are sung in sweet yet strong slurs and the arrangement is lightly played to soothe the soul, as the song progresses so does the intensity; Fish Assassin serves as a short interval, it’s an uptempo head-nodding number, but it’s a shame it wasn’t composed as a full-length track. There’s enjoyment to be had with the swinging country/rock infusion that is Coping Mechanism, it has a power that demonstrates the duo’s musical solidity.

Music is often perceived as poetry, this is the case when you listen to Pinned and the way it was structured; folk is a very poetic genre, this particular track tells a story of love gone wrong and the words flow perfectly to the music. There is something unique about Swimmin’, its melody is so punchy and transitions without flaw from a folk ramble in the verse to a memorable and belty chorus; Stono River Blues sees the duo experiment with a deep form of blues entwined with their staple folk sound, the twang of their vocal is perfect for a track of its calibre. The album downs its tempo with Ohio, its arrangement is intriguing, it is one of the slower paced songs on the record but it is hard to distinguish whether the track is creepy or a piece of art; but that trumpet kicks butt, as does the guitar and the tonality of the vocal…ok, that makes it art! Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan is a fun sounding ditty, yet another track about moving on from a previous life lived; the pair’s country influence peeks its head out and takes the lead with Save The World. It’s been a Swimmin’ Time, but the album must come to an end, Thresher closes the curtains on a more smoother and lighter note.

Swimmin’ Time not only demonstrates the obvious bond between Michael and Cary, but it fixates on the tightness and uniqueness the couple have brought to the table; Shovels & Rope have been doing this for six years now, but their sound could be perceived as timeless. There are a lot of folk acts out there, more and more a growing popular each day, but Shovels & Rope have got something uniquely diverse going for them; there is not one track on Swimmin’ Time that sounds out of place or not at all welcome. Album after album the duo become more powerful through their music, this new album is no exception and excitement is the feeling to go for when it comes to wanting to hear more from Shovels & Rope in the future.