Two beat up drums and two old guitars

Loud, raw and passionate: The duo recently recorded with Jack White at Third Man Records in Nashville. Photo by John Zara

The past year has been a busy one for Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. The husband-and-wife duo released O' Be Joyful to great reception from an eager fanbase. Relentless touring has helped propel their single, "Birmingham." Appearing on The Late Show With David Letterman and opening for Dave Matthews Band, Jack White and Dawes doesn't hurt, either.

"A lot of things that happened to us this year were on our — like if we made a list (and I'm not saying we made a list) — of the things we really wanted to do. We were lucky to get to check off a lot of those things," say Hearst. "There's a lot going on and we're pushing ourselves pretty hard."

Early on, the two could be found separately working gigs around the Charleston, S.C., bar scene. Eventually, they joined forces to release the album Shovels & Rope in 2008. Two years later, they adopted the album title as their band name and hit the road.

The outcome falls somewhere between country and rock. The essence of the couple's sound lies in a guitar and kick drum. Their folksy, emotive and gritty live shows are heartening. Balancing instrument swaps and vocal harmonies, the couple creates performances that keep songs exciting and fun. "We don't make set lists," Hearst says. "We try to feel out the audience to see what they want to hear."

While manicured, the album offers tracks that have some bite of their own. Recorded in places like hotel rooms and their tour van, O' Be Joyful  is solidified by songs derived from life itself. Made a little money playing in the bars / With two beat up drums and two old guitars, they exclaim in "Birmingham."

Trent offers some insight on their recording process. "We like to leave mistakes in there and whatever feels good,” he says. “We've had to come up with ways to interpret [the album] into a live show. There are just some things we can't do with two people!"

Ears continue to perk after taping an Austin City Limits session with The Lumineers and a Jack White-produced recording session at Third Man Records in Nashville. The latter yielded a 7" vinyl release. "We were in there for about four hours. Totally live. It felt like a pretty pure recording experience. It was very natural," Trent says about recording with White.

The recent attention the two have been receiving has largely come while they've been on the road, which they try to experience one day at a time. "Just trying to stay sane and maintain," Trent explains. Above all, Shovels & Rope do it their way, the way they've always done it. Loud, raw and passion-filled.

— John Zara can be reached at


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