The husband and wife duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, better known as Shovels & Rope, were slated for an appearance at MidPoint Music Festival here in Cincinnati last fall, but an offer to open for Jack White convinced them to bow out of the fest.
Given the hardscrabble road the pair has traveled over the past five years, it’s hard to argue with their choice. Denver native Trent and Nashville-raised Hearst had been in several bands before crossing paths in Charleston, S.C. (they’d met on tour over a decade ago), eventually playing in each other’s bar bands and becoming friends.
In 2008, the pair formalized their friendship by writing and recording the album Shovels & Rope and releasing it under their own names. The following year they were married at a Charleston vineyard. In 2010, Trent and Hearst both completed new solo albums (The Winner and Lions and Lambs, respectively) and, on the very brink of poverty, decided to officially christen their Country-channeling-Rock partnership with the title of their debut album.
(For the record, the album was titled Shovels & Rope, and the banner across the top of their web site is similarly punctuated, but the cover of last year’s O’ Be Joyful, their first album under the new name, replaced the “&” with “and”; the mystery continues.) O’ Be Joyful was ecstatically received upon release, with frequent references to Johnny Cash and June Carter and John Doe and Exene Cervenka, although they’re just as quick to namecheck The Cramps and the visceral pairing of Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello.
Whatever goes in, it comes out snarling and snapping like Shovels & Rope.
SHOVELS & ROPE perform Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Southgate House Revival in Newport. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.