BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Having taken the Americana universe by storm via O’ Be Joyful, Shovels & Rope finds itself in the unenviable position of having to follow up a record that will always stand as a signpost on the road of their career. Not that singers/songwriters/instrumentalists Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent seem particularly worried about the pressure on Swimmin’ Time, the pair’s third LP together. Indeed, there’s a confidence here, even a swagger, that denotes a band that knows what it likes and how to make it happen.
Whether it’s the ‘50s rock of “Coping Mechanism,” the stately folk-rock of “Bridge On Fire” or the hillbilly update of “Pinned,” the duo revels in its multi-instrumental facility, expansive song-authoring and homespun harmonies with the easy assurance of veteran road dogs. The band’s storytelling skills have sharpened as well – check the snappy folk of “Mary Ann and One-Eyed Dan,” the elegiac country rock of “Thresher” or the grungy blues rock of “Evil.”
The sense of discovery, that sound of two musicians really coming into their own as collaborators, is gone, naturally. But Shovels & Rope displays a firm grip on its craft on Swimmin’ Time, and a willingness to use it in service of any stylistic boulevard it chooses to walk.
DOWNLOAD: “Evil,” “Pinned,” “Thresher”