Shovels & Rope Swimmin’ Time

Shovels & RopeSwimmin’ Time
One of the most compelling live acts in the game right now, Charleston, SC's Shovels & Rope, are a husband-and-wife duo boasting great songs, beguiling lyrics and alluring chemistry. On their breakout sophomore album, 2012's O' Be Joyful, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent traded instruments, lead vocals and playful punk energy with such casual cool it felt as much like a window onto a back porch sing-along as it did an accomplished studio record. Hailed as a kind of antidote to the creeping Mumford-ization of roots music across the Americana world (especially for their unstoppable anthem, the semi-autobiographical knockout "Birmingham"), all eyes have been on the scrappy pair ever since.

Get ready to be rewarded. A lengthy tour through an often desperate, but never bleak, American heartland, Swimmin' Time is every bit as good as its predecessor. Indeed, it offers several songs that leave much of what they've previously recorded in the dust; I'm not sure I'll hear a better song, or performance, than album opener "The Devil Is All Around." A record shot through with nautical imagery — a foreboding sense of impending floods, a roiling boil, a bridge on fire, a rising tide — Swimmin' Time is at once about peril and its subduing. The songwriting is dark, it's heavy (never more so than on the album's centerpiece, the six-minute "After The Storm"), but it's always aimed squarely at the light.

Read about the making of Shovels & Ropes' new album here. (Dine Alone)