Charleston, South Carolina, husband and wife duo Shovels & Rope (Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst) perform with admirable self-sufficiency, conveying raw energy through guitars, harmonica, some old drums and singing. On their self-recorded debut album, other players add touches of banjo, horns, fiddle and synth.
In a live song halfway through the disc, an emcee admonishes the crowd to stop talking and listen closely; it's hardly necessary. Hearst has a tough, sweet, old-timey country voice marked by rare authenticity (though she drops it on the classical/jazz-influenced Carnival), and the duo's voices weave naturally as they switch off between high and low parts.
Though there's a murder ballad about a butcher and his wife near the end, most of the songs, including the strong opening track, concern the duo's history as a couple and a band.
Top track: Birmingham