Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time

Shovels & Rope - Swimmin' Time

Band: Shovels & Rope
Album: Swimmin’ Time

Written by: Chiara DiAngelo


South Carolina husband-and-wife duo Shovels & Rope offer up homegrown, frill-less, and at times even crass, Americana on their sophomore album, Swimmin’ Time. Appropriately filled with water imagery, the album ebbs and flows, weaving like a river, as it eases back and forth between subdued and rowdy. While it’s not as immediately engaging as O’ Be Joyful, there is still much to discover and appreciate once you dive right in.

Album opener “The Devil is All Around Us” is a struggle for redemption song. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are haunted in their detailing of the constant struggle to fight the devil/demons on their back and be a better person. A few songs later, “Evil” channels the darkest of Deep South country spirits. Having fallen back off the wagon, the two admit their deadliest sins: “I hit my kids but I don’t mean to.” Hearst’s snarly drawl and the menacing keys combine to create something downright terrifying.

Immediately after comes “After the Storm.” Real and raw, Hearst and Trent seek atonement: “My mistakes they are so many, for my ruthless heart is wild.” Their voices crack with passionate emotion before rich and anguished harmonica washes over. One of the standout strongest tracks on the album, it ends a capella with the two voices wrapping around one another perfectly. Not safe for good though, the sense of trepidation resurges during title track “Swimmin’ Time.” The kick drum deals a heavy-handed blow, grabs you by the throat and holds you overboard above perilous waves, taunting you to jump into the murky depths.

Throughout the record, the two also stretch their limits to dabble in a variety of Americana-based genres. An ode to chemical inhibition and downtrodden drug-induced escapades, “Coping Mechanism” is traditional twangy country tune that shows off Hearst’s throaty vocals as she insists that “there’s no substitute for the real thing.” The two also sing the heel-stomping electrified “Stono River Blues” before a cacophony of horns belt on the frenetic Louisiana waltz “Ohio.” It feel as if your boat has capsized, crashing up on the shores of a creepy other world gone mad. You are definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Swimmin’ Time isn’t all troubled terror though. Using strong and detailed narratives, “Pinned” and the light-hearted “Mary Ann and One-Eyed Dan,” which tells the courtship tale of a ragtag couple, are the duo’s version of ballad-esque love songs. The album then slows down to finish. There is a hopeful, undulating gentleness to “Save the World,” during which the two prove that all it takes is an acoustic guitar, a simple melody and a couple of voices to save the world. Though there is a more melancholic undertone to album closer “Thresher,” the lengthy track carries the sense of peacefulness forward to the end – and into the arms of the ocean floor.

A band that truly comes to life with onstage chemistry, Shovels & Rope will be in Toronto on September 30, playing at The Phoenix. Ticket details here.

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Categories: Recorded

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