Folk music lies at the heart of just about everything.
Before rock musicians began turning up their amplifiers as loud as they could and roaring into microphones, there was something like what Charleston, South Carolina two-piece Shovels and Rope have. Take a subtle, grungy guitar tone, pair it with a kick drum and snare, and you’ve got the simple framework for married couple Michael Trent’s low croon and Cary Ann Hearst’s sweet, Southern voice to harmonize.
“Maybe all good songs start as folk songs,” Hearst told the crowd last night at Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s Ogden After Hours event, and she’s pinpointed why the crowd continually drew in closer as their set went on. There’s something human about their music, as though you’ve thought of or heard all of these songs before. They strip rock music of its roughness, its noisiness, but not its rowdiness and play bare bones, honest-to-goodness folk. It’s the same, strong songwriting of rock predecessors, but less harsh.
It comes as no surprise that the duo shared a bill with Jack White for several tour dates earlier this month. The pair predicts each other’s next moves with seamless transitions, up in one another’s face at times, and seeming to speak in a language only they know. It’s reminiscent of what Jack and Meg had going on with The White Stripes, minus the full drum kit and screeching amplifiers. Hearst and Trent read each other well, and their marriage makes sense after watching the two interact on a stage.
It’s not quite rock music, and by present-day radio standards, it’s not country music. But Shovels and Rope makes what modern country music wishes it could, with grit, honesty, and a rawness that has listeners wondering if they really did find these instruments in their backyard.