It’s often said that Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst essentially stumbled into discovering the musical chemistry they show as the duo Shovels & Rope.
In fact, for more than a decade, Trent and Hearst (who married in 2009) had pursued separate careers. Hearst released her first solo CD, “Dust and Bones,” in 2006 and followed that with a 2010 EP, “Are You Ready To Die,” and a second full-length, “Lions And Lambs,” in 2011. Trent, meanwhile, spent years in a band, the Films, until that group split up in 2009 and also made a pair of solo albums along the way — a self-titled effort in 2007 and “The Winner” in 2010.
While trying to decide their next moves musically, they started playing shows together around their hometown of Charleston, S.C., and found they liked their scrappy sound as a duo and that they could earn enough money from the shows to make ends meet.
But one thing that wasn’t casual about Shovels & Rope was the couple’s decision to get serious about making music and turning their group into a career.
“We took a good, hard look at it before we decided to do this thing in the beginning,” said Trent. “And both of us were like, ‘Well, if this gets to be too much, then it’s OK to quit and go do something else.’ We’re like, ‘Really, we’re going to be a married couple band? That sounds insane, and it never works.’ But I think just establishing that before we got into all this ...”
“We were real honest about ourselves,” said Hearst, who has a way of completing her husband’s thoughts in ways that are humorous and insightful, as well as succinct.
“I think that worked to our advantage,” Trent agreed.
“We realized it wasn’t a good idea, and then we did it anyway,” Hearst said. “We were just hoping it works out in the long run.”
So far, so good. The couple released “Little Seeds,” their third album of original material as Shovels & Rope last October, and the creative chemistry and spirited personality that has impressed many music critics seems as strong as ever on the new album. And not only are they still happily married, in September 2015 they welcomed their first child, Louisiana Jean, into their family.
Trent and Hearst waited until after Louisiana Jean was born to record “Little Seeds.” Like their previous albums, 2012’s “O’ Be Joyful” and 2014’s “Swimmin’ Time” (as well as the 2015 covers album, “Broken Jukebox Vol. 1”), “Little Seeds” was made at the couple’s home studio.
And they quickly found that parenting threw some new twists into making the album.
“Babies don’t pay attention to schedules,” Hearst said. “Newborns don’t care that you have a session scheduled at 10 in the morning.”
But “Little Seeds” got finished and it’s another stirring effort. It retains the rowdy and twangy rock sound of “O’ Be Joyful” and “Swimmin’ Time,” but shows some growth both musically and lyrically.
“I think every time we approach a new record, we want to expand the sonic landscape. We just want to try and do some new things,” Trent said. “So I think we’re stretching out a little bit more on this record and we’ve got a little bit more hair on it.”
That follicle growth is most apparent on the impressive opening track, “I Know,” which is arguably the most plugged-in, hard rocking song the duo has recorded, and “Buffalo Nickel,” a stomping, bluesy track. But “Little Seeds” is plenty diverse, with songs that range from the spare balladry of “St. Anne’s Parade” and “This Ride” to the rollicking country rock of “Botched Execution” to the measured thump of “Johnny Come Outside.”
Lyrically, “Little Seeds” moves away somewhat from the story song style featured on the first two albums, adding a more personal and topical dimension to the album.
The social commentary is most evident in “BWYR,” a nearly a cappella call for unity whose haunting tone reinforces the gravity of the subject matter (“Black lives, white lives, yellow lives, red/Let’s all come together and share the bread”). Meanwhile, the poignant songs — “Mourning Song” and “Invisible Man” — were inspired by Trent’s father, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Trent and Hearst said they plan to play a good number of the new songs during their shows, but fans can expect the tunes to take on different dimensions live. That’s because Trent and Hearst tour as a twosome switching off playing guitars, drums, harmonicas and other instruments, and some songs need re-arranging to work with the limitations of having only two musicians on stage.
Trent said they like what the two-person format does for the songs.
“I feel like it keeps it fresh for us, and more fun,” he said. “We have more instruments to pick from now that get thrown into the mix. But you can do a lot with very little to make really interesting arrangements. I think we dig that.”
IF YOU GO
- What: An Evening with Shovels & Rope
- When: 9 p.m. Sunday
- Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
- Info: www.thestatetheatre.org