Shovels And Rope – O’ Be Joyful

January 01, 1970



You may divine the meaning behind this Charleston, SC, duo’s
name from the lyrics of opening track “Birmingham,” one of several
manifestos-for-twangers inhabiting this remarkable (and aptly-titled)
album: “Making something out of nothing/ With a scratch and a hope/ Two old
guitars/ Like a shovel and a rope.”


If Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent were young cooks on the
Food Network’s Chopped reality show
and “shovel” and “rope” were the mystery ingredients they were handed to brew up
a mouth-watering delicacy in an hour or less, then O’ Be Joyful would be their resulting – and across-the-board winning – entrée to celebrity chefdom.
Herein find the proverbial “eclectic brew” of all things Americana. Strummy, rhythmically-insistent
toe-tappers? Check. Guy-gal harmonies reminiscent of everything from trad
Johnny ‘n’ June to upstarts Gram ‘n’ Emmylou to insurgents John Doe ‘n’ Exene?
Check. Little bit o’ sweet fiddle here (courtesy Amanda Shires, no less), a
touch of boozy-woozy electric git-tar
there, a smidgen of banjo and a tumbler of harp thrown in for good measure, all
topped off with the proverbial backbeat-you-can’t-lose throughout? Check-check-check.


About now you may be thinking to yourself, from my description, “What makes this any different from the nine
hundred and ninety nine other formulaic artists that’ve been mentioned on the No Depression blogs over the past six
weeks?” I’m here to tell you that Cary and Michael – the former sounding like a
sultry cross between Loretta Lynn and Hope Sandoval, the latter landing
squarely in Kevn Kinney or Johnny Irion territory – transcend. Their tropes are familiar, admittedly, and in a few
instances they also veer perilously close to Southern minstrelsy (the
promisingly titled “Kemba’s Got the Cabbage Moth Blues,” for example, succumbs
to a kind of cornpone meditation on chickens, turnip greens, and shots of


All is redeemed, however, on such mind-altering tracks as
the aforementioned shit-kicker “Birmingham” and the title track (a raucous
call-to-carnality suitable for horny teenagers and tent revival preachers
alike); or their more serene, but haunted, counterparts like the minimalist,
yearning “Law Low” and the gasp-inducing murder balladry of “Shank Hill St.”
And on the magnificent Dixieland-goes-garage stomper that is “Hail Hail” the
entire grand tapestry of modern music, from Chuck Berry’s “Hail Hail Rock ‘n
Roll” through Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball,” is conjured both sonically
and lyrically in wild style effect.


What would you do
if you were handed a box full of shovels and rope and told to create? What if
it were two old guitars instead? Would you meet the challenge, or get chopped? Think
about it.


DOWNLOAD: “Birmingham,” “Hail Hail,”
“Tickin’ Bomb” FRED MILLS

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