Saturday, February 27, 2016

Shovels & Rope Saturday: 'We always back the underdog, coz he's the only one we trust...'

 '... and if that one's for the winner, then this one must be for me'

My SIXTH STRAIGHT DAY of alliteratively derived musically themed blog posts was always going to be "Shovels and Rope Saturday" because my love of the glorious rock'n'roll-country-folk husband-and-wife duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent is so intense it is almost unnatural.

The Charleston, South Carolina-based duo are just SO GODDAMN GLORIOUS. From the first time I accidently stumbled across them on YouTube (playing The Thread in a big empty warehouse) my heart was lost.

I have never heard them be anything short of breathtakingly awesome, raw, sweaty and beautiful in equal measures. The dynamics that makes them work so well is the combination of wonderful harmonies wedded to the dirty grit and high energy of rock'n'roll, with more than a dash of punk.

With just two of them on a stage — alternating between playing beaten-down looking guitars and drums, with harmonica and keyboards sometimes thrown in — these dynamics can be seen in songs and between songs.

It can even sometimes be seen between Hearst and Trent themselves — with Hearst the brassy Southern belle with the "howdee-do-dee" accent and Trent the dishevelled rock'n'roller with a three-day growth. Though, like their frequent switching between drums and guitar, they don't stay in those rolls, with Hearst looking often as down-and-dirty as anyone and Trent proving (as in the Americana Music Festival clip below shows) capable of carrying off a stylish suit as well as anyone.

It is a near perfect mix of sugar-and-spice, sweet-and-sour, Heaven-and-Hell (with the emphasis on Heaven). They are everything I ever wanted and their performances make me feel like crying with joy.

I saw them live in Sydney in March last year...  and they were as perfect as I'd expected. The night before, at a typically over-policed Western Sydney Wanderers game, I'd managed to get arrested for "assaulting police" (an insane charge — CCTV footage showed the cop assaulted me — that was later thrown out of court).

I turned up to the Factory in Marrickville barely 24 hours later, charge sheet still in my back pocket, and it was a case of "from the ridiculous to the sublime". If there is anything closer to Heaven than standing just metres from Shovels and Rope playing live, I'd be keen to know about it.

(Being with the Red and Black Bloc as the Wanderers play at Wanderland does give S&R a run for their money... and the one year ban from the Wanderers' stadium that came with the police charge is very very close to running out...)

As my mouth-foaming praise suggests, I'd find it near impossible to pick any Shovels and Rope song as "the best", but I chose "The Winner" coz it particularly speaks to me. It was originally released on a Michael Trent solo album (2010's The Winner).

But, with Trent and Hearst appearing on each others solo albums by that stage, that is a technicality and it is one of a host of songs from their solo albums played live as Shovels and Rope so often extent they as much part of the S&R repertoire as any other song.

The words of this ode to the underdog, the "battler" as I guess you'd say in Australia, are below. Then I chuck in one more clip — a live performance of "Birmingham", because the song is an autobiographical account of how Shovels and Rope came about.

The Winner 
Well I'm going through the motions
Seems it happens every night of every week
Well it's an ever running cycle
And the chance of breakin out of it seems weak
Well my mind becomes a freight train
And it never lets me get no decent sleep
Well my head starts a worrying about all the little things I cannot change
And my heart it starts a pounding
Messing up the way the blood goes through my veins
I never dream of nothin pleasant
I'm always lost or gettin booed off of the stage
Well the west coast was a desert
And New York City black
So I spent some time in Caroline
To make my money back
There's a trail of blood that trickles down from Denver to the sea
And if that ones for the winner, this one must be for me
Well there's this busy little corner
Half a mile down the road from where I live
Where all these beautiful women
Work the sidewalk with a little take and give
Oh it's like an escalator walkway
I just mind my own biz and make sure my money's hid
Well I got this friend, he takes his money down there every day when he gets done from work
He asks for Georgia cuz she's special,
She reminds him he's a man and he has worth
Oh but I don't judge him cuz he's honest
Which is more'n I can say I've been since birth
Well the west coast was a desert
And New York City black
So I spent some time in Caroline
To make my money back
There's a trail of blood that trickles down from Denver to the sea
And if that ones for the winner, this one must be for me
So if you're led into a wasteland or made to stumble through the dark
You leave a cartoon-colored legacy or a common watermark
We always back the underdog because he's the only one we trust
And if that ones for the winner, this one must be for us

Making something out of nothing with a scratcher and our hope
With two old guitars like a shovel and a rope

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