Listening to Shovels & Rope’s latest album “Little Seeds,” one wonders how the duo can pull off its sound live. The rollicking folk-rock Americana of the married couple from South Carolina skews closer to the White Stripes than it does The Civil Wars. Drums, bass, keys, guitars, harmonica, a mandolin and more lined the stage before the couple’s set at Emo’s Thursday night, right next to two empty chairs. Any doubts as to whether two people could make much of a racket with just a few instruments were quickly cast aside after a few songs.
Moving effortlessly between instruments as well as their song catalog, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst gleefully seemed to conjure a full-band roots rock concert out of thin air. At one point, Trent was playing the bass drum, the keyboard and the harmonica while Hearst furiously strummed a guitar and sang about how “the rich is rich and the poor is poor and the money you had ain’t good no more.”
Even without knowing the words to some of the songs, it wasn’t hard to get swept up in the sheer Do-It-Yourself joy the two felt on stage. Trent and Hearst swapped seats and instruments at least five times throughout the show. One feels like the decisions on which instrument to play were made organically — either one could have sat down at the keyboard or strapped on a guitar at a moment’s notice. The end result was a show that was a little rough around the edges but was all the better for it because of how much fun Trent and Hearst seemed to be having.
The songs, however, weren’t all fun and games. Mixed in with the raucous “I Know,” the witty “Buffalo Nickel” and the scuzzy Chuck Berry tribute “Hail, Hail” were songs that dealt with the aforementioned class woes (“Gasoline”), the over-medication of children (“Johnny, Won’t You Come Outside”) and the worries that come when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (“Mourning Song”).
That thought-provoking subject matter combined with Shovels & Rope’s DIY ethos to create a listening experience that is best experienced live. Trent and Hearst made all the tone switches and instrument changes look so effortless that one almost thinks they too could start a rollicking folk duo if only they had the right partner. (I left Emo’s with a plan to go start a garage band with my friends, my lack of musical talent be damned). But, as with all partnerships (marital or musical), this one is impossible to duplicate.