On the last night of Celtic Connections a sold out crowd at Oran Mor were delighted to welcome Shovels and Rope back to Scotland for the first time in a couple of years. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst were on a short European tour to promote their excellent recent album By Blood.
Toronto’s Jeremie Albino opened the show with his bluesy country rock songs, entertaining and charming the crowd in equal measure. Highlights from his recent album Hard Time included Lilac Way, which he dedicated to his mother and the equally great Shipwreck – the first song he ever wrote. The sweetest moment of the set was Storm, with the Glasgow crowd adding some backing vocals which only added to the already atmospheric quality of his music.
Shovels and Rope began their set in shadow, singing the title track from the new album. The intimate, quiet beginning brought the crowd to a hush and ushered us into the heart of their musical relationship, even if only for a night. The band then doused the stage in red and let loose with the brilliant The Devil is All Around, showcasing their intense musical chemistry.
Classic songs Birmingham and O Be Joyful were warmly received by the crowd, and with good reason since they seem to only grow in stature for me as time goes on. Still I think the new ones might even be better, in particular Carry Me Home and Good Old Days, both sounding bruised and beautiful live.
Throughout the set the duo were so connected they became like one living entity, swapping musical instruments and vocal duties effortlessly. On songs like Mississippi Nuthin’ and I Know their frenetic energy was especially infectious. A rock and roll, rebel spirit simmers in all their music and breaks right through on new songs Hammer, The Wire and I’m Comin’ Out. Looser and lighter moments like Mary Ann and One Eyed Dan and Fish Assassin made for an an eclectic and unpredictable set.
For the encore they stepped forward to the front of the stage, facing each other to sing a heart blooming version of Neil Young’s Unknown Legend. Music helps us to ‘shine above the bullshit’, as Hearst put it during the show and this band are a welcome beacon in the dark.
Thankfully they aren’t going to make us wait so long to see them again as they are returning to play Edinburgh in June, and no doubt they will have more dates to come so watch out for more announcements soon.
All photographs by Kendall Wilson Photography, with kind permission