Everynight Charley

Shovels & Rope at Brooklyn Bowl / April 9, 2022

When a husband and wife can work together at what they love and make a living from it, that is a supreme blessing. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Heart were leading separate musical careers when they met, fell in love, married, recorded music together, and toured the national music circuit as Shovels & Rope. The duo released its sixth album of original music, Manticore, on February 18.

Shovels & Rope is southern-based, and it shows in their music. Hearst was born in Mississippi and raised in Tennessee until she attended college in Charleston, South Carolina. Colorado native Trent also relocated to Charleston. Both were performing independently in Charleston’s music venues when they collaborated for the first time in 2008. Originally intending this venture to be a one-shot album entitled Shovels & Rope, the results were too good to disown. They named themselves Shovels & Rope, after the album title. Since the beginning, they honored rural Americana music while giving the genre a boot-stomping rock and roll enthusiasm.

Live, Shovels & Rope is strictly a duo. Trent and Hearst sing and shift between an array of instruments, playing guitars, keyboards, harmonicas, synthesizers, and drums. Lacking elaborate arrangements due to the sparse instrumentation, the two musicians play a raw, slightly coarse roots music that draws from blues, country, folk, gospel, and, most of all, rock and roll. Even as they crank the volume, their music maintains a lean sound.

Bringing the Bare Bones tour to the Brooklyn Bowl, Trent and Hearst unpacked the passion of their 20-year-long relationship through their music. The lyrics were expressive and the performance was emotion-packed. Aside from the murder ballads – a staple at their shows – they sang about interpersonal experiences. One recurring theme was parenting, both looking at their relationships with their own parents as well as their relationships with their two young children.

Unlike many other bands, the movement on stage came mostly between songs rather than during the songs, as Trent and Hearst switched instruments often. They sang separately and in unison, with Hearst’s forceful belts commanding the majority of the spotlight. As she related anecdotes between songs, it seemed like her personality was bigger than her husband’s, as well.

The set introduced perhaps as many as seven songs from the new album, and quite a few from earlier albums. Even as the duo bounced between new and old catalogs, the sound was consistent. Whether the musicians played just guitar and drums, piano and drums, piano and guitar or any other combination, sometimes with a subtle inclusion of synthesizer or harmonica, it all sounded honest and tender. Their soulful vocals, solo or in harmony, made the songs sound like they were heart to heart, either between each other or them and the audience. They did not need additional musicians to clutter the effect.

Trent and Hearst concluded the concert standing beside each other at an old-fashioned condenser microphone. Their eyes locked onto one another as they sang. Yep, they are still in love.

Photo by Everynight Charley