Shovels & Rope

Swimmin' Time

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Not unlike their 2012 breakthrough album O' Be Joyful, Shovels & Rope's second album for Dualtone, 2014's Swimmin' Time, suggests Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst bought some privately published guidebook on "How To Write and Record Americana Music Like The Professionals" and have carefully followed the template to the letter. The arrangements have the correct balance of rootsy acoustic flavors and messed-up electric noise, the melodies are steeped in tradition but have a self-consciously clever indie rock edge, and the lyrics deal with the usual themes of natural disasters, human failings, small town eccentricities, and our land's checkered past. But if there aren't a lot of surprises in terms of theme and approach, Swimmin' Time confirms that skill of execution is Shovels & Rope's saving grace -- Trent and Hearst are both fine vocalists, and sound truly splendid when they lay out some rough, sweet harmonies. The duo also took on most of the instrumental work on these sessions, and they generate a commendably swampy groove, even when they lay on a fistful of overdubs to fill out the melodies. And just because these songs follow paths that have been traveled many times before by many other acts doesn't change the fact Trent and Hearst can come up with a really good one every once in a while, such as the ragged but romantic "Pinned" and "Mary Ann and One Eyed Dan." You've almost certainly heard other acts do what Shovels & Rope do on Swimmin' Time plenty of times; the difference is, this duo can do it better than most, and that's enough to keep them going until they're capable of developing a more unique personality to call their own.

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