Shovels & Rope: The New Sound of Charleston?

Tim Brennan

In my first Grit post, I challenged you to tell me which local bands are worth checking out. (I received a couple of suggestions that excite me, though I’m still open to more.) That blog, however, was written just before I came across a local band that is, in fact, well worth checking out.


The band? Shovels & Rope. They impressed me so much with their release of O' Be Joyful that I wrote a review of the record for No Depression magazine—an online publication that focuses on Americana and roots music. It didn’t take long before my little review had over 500 viewers and a small debate going on about the status of Americana music. The debate got me thinking—is Shovels & Rope not just an evolution of roots music, but also the new sound of Charleston? I think it may be.


The band is really a duo, featuring the powerful country vocals of Cary Ann Hearst and the post-punk attitude of Michael Trent. Neither one is from Charleston (Cary Ann is from Mississippi; Michael, from Colorado), but both settled here years ago. She’s part of a grand tradition of boot stompin’ and ass kicking Southern ladies, while his talents might be found in a Chicago or New York hipster music club. They sound like they’re far apart, but they work extremely well together (so much so, even, that they got married).


Most people that I meet in local bars or at places where my kids play are not from Charleston—a fact that is decried by many (like the local auto mechanic who informed me he had a separate rate for Yanks), and on websites such as the Charleston-based Just because a lot of us are not from here, does that mean we can’t have an impact? Perhaps add to the already rich culture in many ways?


Just as Hearst’s ballsy country delivery is not placid and calm like our sixth-generation peninsula residents, Trent’s distorted guitars and unique arrangements are more citified than our downtown. Like it or not, Charleston is a melting pot of cultures from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Shovels & Rope mirrors that, with two artists coming together to form something not only unique, but quite special, in my opinion. When they play at the Pour House on August 18, I hope to be in attendance (though a little detail like the birth of my third child may preclude that).


Perhaps Charleston’s mix of cultures will unearth other worthy collaborations. This is the city where greatness arises out of small beginnings—before I arrived, I was told that the Wando, Ashley, and Cooper Rivers come together for the sole purpose of forming the entire Atlantic. 

Let’s see what else Hearst and Trent form. Their CD O' Be Joyful is now available on iTunes and, I suppose, at places where plastic copies are sold.


Lead photo credit: David "Sully" Sullivan