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WHERE THE RAMONES MEET THE MOUNTAINS
Shovels & Rope are Americana with a punk edge

 To save money, the members of Shovels & Rope have had to reduce their cell plan and leave their dog nearly naked.
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Date published: 11/8/2012

BY ANDREW LEAHEY

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Until recently, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent toured the country in their van, playing 200 shows a year and spending most nights on the queen-sized mattress they'd shoved into the back.

Beneath the mattress rested all their gear, including a few acoustic guitars and a drum set created out of discarded junkyard items. On top of the mattress, the married couple made sure to leave enough room for Townes, their Plott hound.

"We did that for about 2 years," said Hearst, a Mississippi native who sings and speaks with a spunky, twangy accent. "When the mileage got high enough, we decided to get a new vehicle, and instead of getting hotels every night we decided to go with an RV. We're still pretty self-contained.

"It was bittersweet, though," Trent admitted. "I felt like that van was my friend."

"But there's more room for Townes in the RV!" argued Hearst. "Way more room for everybody."

Truth be told, Shovels & Rope doesn't need much room. It's a two-piece band, and its stage show--a wild, sweaty blur of vocal harmony, percussion and furiously strummed guitar--doesn't rely on amplifiers or bulky lighting equipment. It's a small operation. Even so, the sound is huge.

Hearst and Trent first crossed paths in 2005, while both were touring behind their own projects. Trent was playing in a major-label band, the Films, and Hearst was promoting her own songs as an indie-folk solo artist. Although they hit it off, the two didn't resume their friendship until years later, when Trent showed up at Hearst's door with a six-pack of beer and a humble request that they play some Ramones songs together.

Years later, you can hear the Ramones' influence on "O' Be Joyful," Shovels & Rope's debut album. It's an Americana record, steeped in old-school country music and Southern storytelling. There's something undeniably punky about these songs, though, which were recorded in the van, the couple's own kitchen and several motel rooms.


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What: Shovels & Rope Where: The Southern Cafe and Music Hall, 103 S. First St., Charlottesville. When: Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. Cost: $10 Info: thesoutherncville.com, shovelsandrope.com