Murder fiction and country songs make excellent repeat bedfellows. The themes in country classic "Jackson" have been rehashed and manipulated a thousand times over, and the word "Carolina" (and her low-country cousin "caroline") uttered by every Southern-loving folkie. Whiskey doesn't rhyme with much, but it is a good source of harmony and writing material.
There are certain worthy themes that will always crop up in Americana, some delivered more convincingly than others. There is a required element of authenticity and self-awareness for little country bands now, the ones outlying radio and the traditional Grammy categories. And Shovels & Rope have that Real Deal card.
What's apparent from the first guitar notes on the duo's album "O' Be Joyful," on blistering opener "Birmingham," is that Shovels & Rope are hungry and badass. Duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent's divided duties sound both combative and collaborative, with the former's crackling voice leaving smoking embers in its wake and the latter's stoking them with harmonies. The ramshackle nature of their country-printed arrangements (and the inherent challenges of being mostly-duo) make them work harder for a big refrain or a tender moment, and they deliver.
"Keeper," which makes its premiere below, would be a perfectly ripe song if all the band had was a tambourine and a vocal delay. This wordy-word track still benefits from minimal interference but it's the nutty ad libs and pushy fiddle that takes it over the top. It's one of the more straight-forward stompers on the set, as "O' Be Joyful" shimmies its way around starry-eyed waltzes, Bob Wills barnstormers, a half-mocking Chuck Berry cover and a square dance that devolves into those aforementioned whiskey shots and Hearst goofballing the words "shrimp and grits."
"O' Be Joyful" is out on July 31, and it's advisable you check out their live show before all else. Check out the song and their concert trailer below.