Shovels & Rope O’ Be Joyful/Dualtone

Shovels & Rope

I’ve been a fan of the music of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent for quite some time.

Hearst possesses one of Charleston’s most powerful and expressive singing voices, and her spirited performances remind one of old-school country legends such as Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.

Trent’s solo album, “The Winner,” remains one of my favorite local releases, period.

When the husband-and-wife team pool their talents, they do so as Shovels & Rope.

If your thing is alt-country, or Americana, or whatever they’re calling that cross between rock, folk and country these days, then “O’ Be Joyful” will surely cause you to be just that.

Listening to Hearst and Trent harmonize makes the hairs on my arms stand up. On tracks such as “Keeper” and “Tickin’ Bomb,” the two intertwine their voices like runaway kudzu vines, singing about love, drinking, heartbreak, music and the rest of the stuff that really matters.

Some of my personal favorite moments off the new album include the lovely 3/4-time “Carnival,” the country-rock stomp of the title track and the brilliant recording of a club emcee imploring the crowd to listen to the band rather than talk (“We like to listen to the entertainer. We don’t want to know what you cleaned out from behind the refrigerator last night!”) that comes before “Kemba’s Got the Cabbage Moth Blues.” That guy is my new hero.

The album, recorded at home and on the road whenever there was time, has a raw, urgent feel to it, and that may be why its songs are so effective.

Forget local; “O’ Be Joyful” just might be one of my favorite releases of 2012.

Key Tracks: “Keeper,” “Tickin’ Bomb,” “Kemba’s Got the Cabbage Moth Blues”

Jimmy Cliff


Along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff is one of those names that simply means reggae music.

The music legend starred in the legendary 1972 film “The Harder They Come,” and recorded the soundtrack’s title song.

Over time, Cliff molded himself into a reggae artist and a film actor, but in the last few years, Cliff’s music-making paled in comparison to his early years.

Tim Armstrong, one-half of the punk rock group Rancid, took notice of this and decided that Cliff deserved a little help and a lot of respect.

The result of Cliff and Armstrong’s collaborative effort is “Rebirth,” which, as the title implies, reintroduces Cliff to the world in glorious fashion.

Although he’s now 64 and represents one of the last of the original reggae masters, Cliff’s voice sounds eternally young here.

With Armstrong’s skilled hand producing the proceedings, Cliff has crafted a superb collection of music, complete with a few pleasant surprises.

Standout tracks include the politically charged yet catchy “World Upside Down” and “One More,” as well as covers of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” and Rancid’s “Ruby Soho.” That latter cover, originally co-written by Armstrong, packs the same punch as The Maytals’ classic “Pressure Drop,” and you can dance to it just as well.

With “Rebirth,” Cliff has pulled off the comeback of the year. Reggae fans rejoice.

Key Tracks: “World Upside Down,” “One More,” “Ruby Soho”

Old Crow Medicine Show

Carry Me Back/ATO

Before there was Mumford & Sons, there was Old Crow Medicine Show.

These mountain music revivalists have made quite a career for themselves by playing bluegrass with a modern flair that packs concert halls across the country.

While the ideal way to see Old Crow Medicine Show is live, the band does a decent job of translating the live experience to a studio album on its latest release, “Carry Me Back.”

Coming off a short hiatus that saw the return of one original member (Critter Fuqua) and the departure of another (Willie Watson), the band jumps right in with the title track.

From there, the songs come fast and furiously, with the best of the bunch including “Bootlegger’s Boy,” “Missis-sippi Saturday Night” and “Country Gal.”

Particularly great, and very amusing, is “Sewanee Mountain Catfight,” which may require repeated listenings to catch all the rapid-fire lyrics.

If you have never had the pleasure of seeing Old Crow Medicine Show live, make every effort to see them the next time the band visits the Lowcountry.

Until then, “Carry Me Back” is a suitable substitute to tide you over.

Key Tracks: “Carry Me Back,” “Mississippi Saturday Night,” “Sewanee Mountain Catfight”

By Devin Grant