On Shovels & Rope’s album Swimmin’ Time, there’s water everywhere. Song titles like “After the Storm,” Fish Assassin” and the title track drive home the point. But no matter how many tides swell or rains pour through the lyrics, the songs of Cary-Ann Hearst and Michael Trent never sink. They make buoyant music, rising high with raw acoustic guitars, homemade percussion and plucky vocals.
On their second effort, this Americana duo, who are also married, balance tales of guilt-ridden ne’er-do-wells with jaunty vocals and gallows humor. “I’ll try not to be the monster of the millennium,” they sing in “Coping Mechanism.” “I’m going to lose my arm/ before I pull out the rabbit,” they joke in “Ohio.” The latter may be a murder ballad, but it’s delivered with a Tom-Waits-like wink.
Swimmin’ Time rocks harder than the couple’s ramshackle debut, 2011′s “O, Be Joyful.” On the new song “Evil,” about a guy experiencing “shame in the shadow of the steeple,” they inject flashes of Black Keys-like, fuzz-toned electric guitar. The harder music flatters Hearst’s voice: She whoops and hollers, creating a character that can sound unhinged. Trent’s throaty vocals serve to goad her. Together, they nail the defiance that defines a key part of the American character.