Review: Married duo Shovels & Rope have harmonies that dance
“Manticore,” Shovels & Rope (Dualtone Music)
Fans of Shovels, Rope or both need not be alarmed by “Divide & Conquer,” a wrenching breakup song on the new album “Manticore.” It’s compelling but fictional, and happily, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are still going strong as husband and wife and Shovels & Rope.
The new 10-tune set rivals their best work, and the partnership is so self-sufficient the album required little outside input – the duo wrote the songs and played every note themselves, from piano underpinnings to the occasional guitar or harp solo.
When there are words to be sung, Trent and Hearst usually do it together, the bond between them always audible. Their harmonies dance with an appealing informality, as if they’re figuring out intervals while they sing.
The unpolished approach fits the material. “I’m singing like a toothache,” they observe on “Happy Birthday Who,” a lament about homelessness. When the couple profess their love for their two children on the affecting ballad “Bleed Me,” Hearst’s vibrato conveys a maternal quiver.
Elsewhere they’re at full throttle, and topics range from a World War I truce and the ghost of James Dean to the visceral plain and cosmic bones.
“Life will make you shiver,” the lovely ballad “Anchor” concludes. “It’s a long and lonely river.”
Find an ampersand to lean on.
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