Published Oct 05, 2016Shovels & Rope offer a raw yet rollicking, hard rocking yet rootsy take on Americana with their new album, Little Seeds. The Charleston, South Carolina duo (who are also a married couple, consisting of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent) share instrumental and vocal duties deftly enough to make more noise than a band with quadruple the number of members. This is especially true on the uptempo opening tracks "I Know" and "Botched Execution," and on the equally raucous midway song "Buffalo Nickel."
"Botched Execution" is a particular delight, thanks to its piston-pumping percussion, and the uproarious "ahhs" that Hearst and Trent shout on the chorus. Midway standout "Invisible Man," is cut from the same cloth, what with its jabbing percussion and equally punchy guitar riffs. Listeners will also enjoy the bluesy "Buffalo Nickel," which finds Hearst and Trent singing in raspy yelps over sprinklings of vaudeville piano notes, along with subtly grinding guitar and crackling drums, all of which evoke the White Stripes circa Get Behind Me Satan. On "Johnny Come Outside," meanwhile, Shovels & Rope tap a more vintage influence, the Band, adopting a seesawing rhythm, guitar strums that squeak like box spring mattresses and handclaps and vocals that are as earnest as anything Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson ever laid on wax.
Actually, "Johnny Come Outside" is such a success that it makes Little Seeds' other mellow tracks pale in comparison, though fellow slow-burner "St. Anne's Parade" comes close to thanks to its sparse banjo plucks, which give the duo's fantastic lyrics plenty of room to shine (one key line finds them harmonizing about needing "more fingers to count the ones I love"). "Missionary Ridge" and "San Andreas Fault Line Blues" continue a succession of equally threadbare tracks on the album's latter half, before "Eric's Birthday" and "This Ride" close the album out in subdued fashion.
This string of downtempo songs, while soothing and catchy, will leave fans of Shovels & Rope's more upbeat fare feeling restless. A more balanced reshuffling of the track list would have solved this issue, and might have made this already excellent album a classic. But as is, Little Seeds is a fantastic LP that showcases Shovels & Rope's uncanny ability to both rock out and rest easy. (New West)