Channeling country, bluegrass, and blues through an indie rock prism, Shovels & Rope deliver an energetic, passionate and hypnotic sound unduplicated in today’s musical landscape. Little Seeds, their electrifying New West Records album, finds the award-winning South Carolina duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst exploring fresh dimensions in their sound with a brace of bold, candid, highly personal new songs. The 12-song collection, produced by Trent at the couple’s home studio in Charleston, succeeds 2014’s Swimmin’ Time and 2012’s O’ Be Joyful; the latter title garnered the twosome Americana Music Awards for Song of the Year (for “Birmingham”) and Emerging Artist of the Year. Last year’s Busted Jukebox, Volume 1 was a collaborative collection of covers featuring such top talents as the Milk Carton Kids, Lucius, JD McPherson and Butch Walker.
On the new release, Trent and Hearst as ever play all the instruments and penned the material, which range from stomping rockers to delicate acoustic-based numbers. Many of Little Seeds’ finely crafted and reflective new songs – completed in the late summer of 2015 -- are drawn from tumultuous events experienced by the couple over the course of the last two years. “There were two major changes that happened at the same time,” Hearst says. “We found out we were pregnant, and at the same time Michael’s parents had been living with us, because his father is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Those two things, having the baby and facing the reality that our parents were aging, made this weird, awesome circle of humanity that really just took us out. I guess we were in the crosshairs of human existence.” Trent continues, “We started putting this record together right after the baby was born. Every spare moment I had I was in the studio doing my best to work around the cries, and Cary would have to sneak up and do her parts when the baby was asleep. It’s a funny thing trying to make a rock n roll record with a sleeping baby in the house.”
“It was cathartic,” says Trent. “There were some songs we had trouble getting through because it was too emotional for us. That’s not really how we had approached songwriting in the past -- we got really into writing character-based songs on Swimmin’ Time. For Little Seeds, this is what was going on, and it was all consuming, physically and emotionally, and I feel like we couldn’t help but to be very raw and honest.”
2015 had been a year of major change for Matthew Logan Vasquez. He moved with his wife, Marthe, from Brooklyn to Austin, he saw the birth of his first child Thor, and after a decade since founding his critically acclaimed band Delta Spirit, he finally decided to go it alone for the first time with his solo debut the Austin EP (November 2015) and full length LP Solicitor Returns (February 2016). This sea-change is reflected on the EP’s stunning psych-folk-rock opener, an 18-minute track (yes, eighteen minutes) that conjures desert visions of Crazy Horse guitar solos, David Crosby’s mustache, and all the good things about a journey through the past riding high. Matt actually grew up in Austin (and Dana Point, CA too) and the song is a slice of his life–an autobiography that isn’t even close to being finished– an epic American saga that reflects his skill as a remarkable modern songwriter still on the rise. If Richard Linklater could write a song, this would be it. “Matt’s voice and words have that Nashville outcast vibe to it,” says Jay Sweet, producer of the Newport Folk Festival and a longtime champion of Matt’s music. “He’s not California, he’s not Texas, he’s not Brooklyn—even though he’s lived in all of those places. He’s a transplant and a vagabond, which is why he embodies folk and rock music. For a singer-songwriter, he is truly refreshing.”