Shovels and Rope at The Orange Peel, Asheville, NC 3/4/17by Pat and George Betzhold on 04/26/17
Diggin' "Shovels and Rope" in Asheville
Over the years there have been plenty of oddball names for musical groups – Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, Foo Fighters, Franz Ferdinand – the list goes on and on. There were somewhat reasonable stories behind all of them. But how about Shovels and Rope??? We recognize them as tools whose uses are varied, from snow removal and towing to the more sinister hanging and burying; but how about rescue? If you’re a musical duo, it could be digging your partner out of a hole and tossing them a line when they need it; much like the life preserver on the cover of their album “Swimmin’ Time.”
Formed almost accidentally, these now married parent/song writers/performers have built their skills organically. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, from Mississippi and Texas respectively, met on the road while playing in their own bands. Initially formed with a look toward having some fun and grabbing some fast money, they soon recognize that there was really “something there.” Living in Charleston and parents of a now one and a half year old girl, they tour extensively, always with daughter, Louisiana Jean. Recently they brought their road show to Asheville’s Orange Peel and sold out for both shows.
We were excited to see them play. We had only heard their recordings and were enamored with the fullness of sound they projected with only two players. Relying on a strong drum back beat and skillful guitar, they can fill the air with driving instrumentals that provide a rocking soundtrack for their often poetic lyrics and Cary Ann’s Nancy Griffin-like voice.
Their opening performance of album title track “Swimmin’ Time” set the stage for the rest of the 15 song, almost two hour set. Quite possibly the highlight of the night was the third song – “Invisible Man.” The subject of the song is Trent’s father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It is a driving, pounding, and relentless rail against a merciless affliction that is robbing them of a dearly loved parent. The refrain “Is there anybody out there who can give me a voice / I hate to repeat it but it’s not my choice” really does convey the helplessness of someone who fully understands what is happening but is powerless to stop it.
As the night progressed, the mostly standing and jumping crowd of hipsters seemed to shed their daytime persona and let loose of all inhibitions. A pair of twenty something ladies became entangled and fell to the floor in an accidental pile that seemed to take a long time to separate. Another regular at the Peel began making new friends at every turn. His open and good hearted behavior was misinterpreted as aggression by an older couple near us. This was quickly calmed by all and the party continued unabated. Perhaps it was the elegant flask of top quality moonshine that he generously shared with us that contributed to his good humor. No matter, the shine was great and we became best friends for rest of the show.
By the time they ended with “Buffalo Nickel” and encored with “Cavalier,” the sold out hall of 1050 seemed to have gotten everything they wanted. For our part, the driving beat of the drums that works so well in the studio was somewhat overpowering. It seemed that the wonderful lyrics and harmonies were, at times, drowned out.
But in the end, it was apparent that tonight the shovel was used to clear the hall of the audience’s inhibitions and the rope was used to bring everyone closer. If you are looking for a great, foot-stomping night of fun, keep your eye open for this entertaining duo.