Boot-stomping “sloppy tonk” duo from South Carolina, Shovels & Rope played to a packed room at the Mercury Lounge on August 23rd along with opener Christopher Paul Stelling.
Stelling slowly took the stage raising his glass to the audience with a “cheers” and opened with intricate guitar plucking and an electronic stomp pad. The folksy singer/songwriter seemed to lose himself completely in the music, letting his body flail around and face contort. During slower songs/parts the artist would smack his guitar loudly as if daring the crowd to look away. The modest yet powerful singer commented on the friendly and animated room, “You guys ain’t from New York are you? People from New York just stand around with their arms folded.”
There’s a very emotional and raw sound to Stelling’s music and he seemed completely at ease as he played compositions from his recent album, Songs of Praise and Scorn. His voice, a raspy crying whine, contrasted a bit with the sweeter melodies, but on his darker and more forceful songs, his voice worked exceptionally well.
Stelling stared opened-eyed into the audience as his soulful voice washed over the room. His banter with the crowd was consistently humble, asking that everyone bear with him until Shovels & Rope played, which caused a collective laugh. He playfully asked the audience if they wanted a “screamer or a sadder” song, to which the audience unanimously cried, “screamer!”
Shovels & Rope composed of husband/wife singer-songwriters Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent hit the stage next with the catchy single “Gasoline,” off their debut album O’ Be Joyful. Michael Trent sat playing this simple drum kit and guitar while joining in with Cary on vocals,.The pair rolled into the fast-paced over the top O’ Be Joyful track, “Kemba’s Got the Cabbage Moth Blues,” followed by “Boxcar” and the wildly catchy “Cut the Rope.” Cary and Michael jammed back and forth singing sweetly into one another’s faces and switching instruments back and forth throughout the night. When the two-some broke into “Birmingham,” their chemistry was palpable and the crowd reflected the band’s energy, movin’ and shakin’ all around the tight space.
Breaking out the keys, they played one of their harder/fuzzed out numbers, “Hail Hail” and after a revved up guitar solo in “Bad Luck,” Cary Ann took Michael’s hat and announced there was no time for “jibber jabber” before cutting into their last song. The crowd was in uproar, demanding an encore from the talented couple and they obliged, playing “a little country song” called “Who’s Gonna Raise These Babies.” Before walking off stage, Cary Ann leaned over and gave Michael a kiss on the cheek and the audience stood for a few moments, stupefied.