Shovels & Rope “O Be Joyful” Track-by-Track Album Review

Shovels & Rope “O Be Joyful” Track-by-Track Album ReviewCourtesy of

Reminiscent of a 60’s southern rock duo, husband-and-wife duo Shovels & Rope bring the romanticism of being on the road in a busted van, spinning and singing yarns and ballads about murder, love and heartache. Classic Americana rockers, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst presented their debut album O’ Be Joyful in 2012. Read on for FDRMX’s track-by-track album review.

1. “Birmingham” opens their debut album with the story of how the “Rockmount cowboy” and the “Cumberland daughter” originally met “500 miles from Birmingham,” traveling the States playing their “beat up drums and two old guitars.”  

2. “Kepper” features a harmonica intro before Lu and her “good good man” are presented to us, as the couple who have settled down together, despite disapproving neighbors’ comments.

3. “O’ Be Joyful” has plucky banjo and acoustic guitar that is soon joined by a shy distorted guitar. Hearst’s channels Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton in this feisty tune, yelping, “Babe, it’s alright / I’m gonna wrap you up tonight!”

4. “Hail Hail” has a catchy blues riff accompanied by the occasional NOLA-esque horns moaning off to the side. Sung mostly in unison, Trent and Hearst make you want to join right in their “Bap-bap-baahs” with the rest of the bar you’re sitting in, slapping your palm in time on the table. Lyrics include lessons on how to handle iffy relationships: “Hail hail wrecking ball / when it goes outta control / I’m gonna give you a call.”

5. “Lay Low” brings it down for a bit, with a lonely lullaby in which the morose singer musters the desolate promise, “So lay low baby / I won’t be back anytime soon / If it gets too lonely / I will follow you ‘round in this tune.”  Hearst and Trent’s hushed harmonies are enough to make your heart break.

6. “Kemba’s Got the Cabbage Moth Blues” has a live recording vibe, starting off with an announcement from a show promoter, advising the patrons to keep it down while the performers are on stage. Hearst’s spunky personality is back in this track, with a knee-slapping beat backing her up. Cries of “Whiskey whiskey whiskey!” and “The drinks are on me!” fly throughout. The song closes out with her throaty growl of “Fish and grits!”

7. “Tickin’ Bomb” is a  nice n’ easy song, focusing more on Trent’s vocals, while Hearst does backups. They bring in the horns again, for a fat, blues sound, bringing to mind work by The Band. “We’ll play my song / all night long / I’d be a tickin’ time bomb / All night long,” describes the feeling of sitting next to the one who makes your heart go pitter-pat.

8. “Carnival” is a sweet little waltz with Hearst on the lead, melodically drifting from line to line. An unexpected Rhodes-like keyboard strolls along with her.  

9. “Shank Hill St.” brings on that country rock vibe, with two-four drum beat, banjo, and low down, deep vocal harmonies from both Hearst and Trent. The creepy story along with an eerie mellotron adds ambience to this murder ballad. The subject is possibly a reference to Ireland’s Shankill Butchers. “The wooden door creaked open and the butcherman let me in yes / But I wasted not a minute I was on him like a whip…”

10. “Cavalier” has happy claps in its beginning, and sets its playful attitude with lyrics like, “It was four in the morning, she was holding on tight / to a David Bowie look a like circa ‘85.”

11. “This Means War” has a threatening title, but somehow carries a hopeful feel to it. With Trent’s character challenging God, questioning his wife’s death “You had no prose / you had no right / to take my dove / my little light / half my sight /  half my soul / my beating heart / my precious wife.” Hearst hums backing vocals under his heart rending words. the final words of advice are to “Keep very close what’s given to you.”

Check back in on August 26th, to read a track-by-track album review of Shovels & Rope’s sophomore album, Swimmin’ Time on the Encyclopedia of Music. Find out more about the band here.