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No wonder life is good for Shovels & Rope

Royale, Boston, September 27, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Things are go swimmingly - pun intended - for Shovels & Rope, the South Carolina-based duo comprised of husband-and-wife Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent.

For starters, their new disc, "Swimmin' Time," debuted at 21 on the Billboard Top 200 in its first week just a few shot weeks ago. On the local front, the band was playing two nights one year after doing a single night at the very same club, almost selling out the club on both nights.

The growing public show of support seems to be new for the appreciative couple, so they weren't exactly resting on their laurels either in a set that alternated with a dense, roots rock sound starting with the title track of their new disc, but one that smartly alternated to a more country and definitely softer edge as well.

If you didn't know any better, you'd think Shovels & Rope utilized tapes or loops or something to enhance their sound, given that it's just Trent and Heath on stage. But that was not the case.

While the two alternated positions and instruments throughout the night, whoever was on drums - and Trent played a bit more of that instrument - they tended to be one-armed bandits, using the other arm to play keyboards. Not to mention using their feet for other instrumentation.

The result was a thick sound for chunks of the 90-minute set (Shovels & Rope dispensed with leaving the stage for the two-song encore, saying they were on a time limit due to a disco night following in the same spot). The sound wasn't particularly clear on some of those numbers with the vocal quality coming through on the softer material. But there was a defining intensity to those songs, especially in Hearst's hands ("Birmingham" and the fast and furious pace of the closing "Bad Luck").

Hearst assumed more of the lead vocalist role with her voice coming in above her mate's even when doing a duet. But the two feed off of each quite well with that becoming particularly true when they would share a lone mic on occasion ("Tell the Truth"). The longest song of the night, "After the Storm," also was one of the best with a duet leading the way.

With The Civil Wars kaput, Shovels & Rope are one of the leaders of a very strong breed of similar acts with their own musical twist. With albums and concerts like this, no wonder life is so good.