Shovels & Rope have made quite an imprint in wider circles since receiving honors as best new band from the Americana Music Association for their formal debut O’ Be Joyful in 2013. Not content to rest on those kudos, the duo — consisting of multi-instrumentalists Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent — have showed their determination to move forward beyond the rustic regimen they established early on. Two more albums — Swimmn’ Time and a covers collection, Busted Jukebox Vol. 1 — have demonstrated their willingness to expand their template and redefine themselves in the process.
Their new effort, Little Seeds, may be their boldest venture yet, one that spans the vast reach of current events and the troubled times in which we all find ourselves. The shooting that took place at the AME church in their hometown, Charleston South Carolina takes center stage in terms of topics, but it’s the motif rather than the message that draws the most immediate attention here.
Indeed, for a two person combo that literally play all the instruments themselves, the duo create a remarkably diverse musical palette, whether it’s the jittery rumble that drives “I Know,” the kinetic rush of “Botched Execution” or the more supple sounds of “St. Anne’s Parade,” “Buffalo Nickel” and “Missionary Ridge.” Indeed, as the album spins on, the songs become more obtuse. An amorphous ambiance melds with the clip clop rhythms of “Eric’s Birthday,” while the somber acapella monotone of “BWYR” provides a somewhat daunting disposition. One can read into that what they will, but the lyric — “Black lives, white lives, yellow lives, red/Let’s all come together and share the bread” — leaves no doubt as to the message they’re determined to share.
Times are tough indeed, and with Little Seeds, Shovels & Rope confront the dread and despair that have engulfed the world in these most treacherous of times. Those are sentiments that are not to be taken lightly, and it’s too their credit that Trent and Hearst concur.