Read our review and watch a video of the duo sing one of their single “Bleed Me”
Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent performed in 2019 at High Water, a music festival held at Riverfront Park that the couple has curated since 2017. Shovels & Rope returns to the stage next month alongside headliners Jack White and My Morning Jacket.
Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, the husband and wife behind Shovels & Rope, are accustomed to analogies such as “a two-headed monster” or “eight-legged beast.” On stage, the couple sings nearly every line of their songs in harmony, while using all of their limbs to add drums, strums, and wails to their melodic fireworks. But as a Leo (Hearst) and a Scorpio (Trent), their mythical creature allegiances lie with the manticore, a Persian amalgam of a lion’s body, a scorpion’s tail, and a human face.
Hearst is quick to clarify that the beast is not supposed to be depicted with wings, and the one on the cover of Manticore (their ninth album as a duo) meets those specs, along with horns and a crescent moon that nods—intentionally or not—to their South Carolina roots. “[These songs] are a mid-tempo emotional reckoning,” says Hearst of the nine tracks. “It’s very much having a looksee at our machine: our interaction, the way we function in life, and some details about marriage from the macro, looking at the institution from afar.”
For the past several years, any given month found Hearst and Trent soaked in sweat and adoration from packed-house audiences stretched between Oslo, Norway, and Seattle. Later, they’re home on John’s Island, juggling two children and negotiating household chores.
Shovels & Rope’s ninth album, Manticore, offers an inside look at the couple’s family life.
That dichotomy of full-time parents and dual-time rock stars is heard throughout Manticore. On “Bleed Me,” they sing, “I will remain/yours to drain” to their children before the emotional refrain in heart-wrenching unison: “You are the best part.”
Shovels & Rope is indeed a family operation. Manticore was recorded at their home studio on a schedule built around childcare. The songs were written before the pandemic began, and the pair imagined a simple acoustic album. “We intended to make a stripped-down thing—that was the idea going in,” says Trent. “I think we thought that there would be less time, and that these songs warranted sparse arrangements.”
Watch Shovels & Rope sing ”Bleed Me” from their new album, Manticore.
Of course, there was time aplenty, allowing Trent to experiment with new approaches to recording. The results are heard most dramatically on “Crown Victoria,” a six-and-a-half-minute slow-build that crescendos into a fully immersive round of echoing vocals. “Michael feels very seen right now!” laughs Hearst. “He puts so much heart, soul, and patience into arrangements, so that when people are actually listening, they’ll have a great time.”
Shovels & Rope fans will enjoy the sparkling production and emotion in Manticore, and the band is likely to have an equally great time sharing it with the world. When Hearst and Trent go on tour this spring, their daughter’s first grade home-school education will include seeing windmills in the Netherlands and London Bridge. And they’ll get to be home when the band hosts the return of High Water Festival in April after a two-year pandemic hiatus.