Shovels & Rope, the duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, have always been about what they can create in their own insular world: they produce their own records from their home studio in South Carolina, tour as a twosome and play every instrument themselves. Which is why their newest album, Busted Jukebox Vol. I (out Friday, November 20th), is a surprise for many reasons. Announced just today via an NPR stream, the LP is a collection of covers, recorded with many of their friends and peers from Shakey Graves to Butch Walker, in locations as varied as Perth, Australia, and New Orleans.
Comprising 10 tracks, Busted Jukebox Vol. 1 isn’t confined to one particular genre — they recruited the Milk Carton Kids for a version of Guns N’ Roses‘ proto-metal ballad “Patience,” Preservation Hall Jazz Band for Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and Walker for his own “Bullet Belt,” rooting each version in their signature wash-bucket harmonies. It’s a thrilling experience to hear the extra texture among Hearst and Trent’s voices — the dribble of keys and parade of horns on “Perfect Day,” or the oozy choral of Lucius on “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” the Nick Lowe track made iconic by Elvis Costello.
“Michael and Cary Ann know we’ll do whatever they ask us to. Musically speaking,” the Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan tells Rolling Stone Country. “After being friends for years, it was great to discover that our four voices — which are so different from each other — work together so nicely.” Indeed, they blend into something a little more George Harrison-meets-Crosby, Stills & Nash than GN’R, with Shovels & Rope barreling through those sky-high Axl Rose notes on the last lines with a bit of tongue and cheek.
“It’s a hidden talent of ours to rearrange other people’s music for ourselves,” Hearst told Rolling Stone Country last year. It’s not so secret anymore: one of the LP’s standouts is “Last,” a track from Nine Inch Nails’ 1992 album Broken, recorded with the quirky singer-songwriter Caroline Rose. It’s completely unrecognizable while still maintaining NIN’s aggressive, spitting-fire tension — and its trashing drumbeat isn’t actually too far from the way Hearst and Trent have been known to attack their instruments during their own hillbilly-headbanging live shows.
“I liked Violent Femmes, Nine Inch Nails, Jane’s Addiction,” Trent admitted to Rolling Stone Country about his decidedly non-Americana tastes growing up. “When Lollapalooza was first happening, that was the biggest, coolest thing I could ever think of.”
Busted Jukebox Vol. 1 is the duo’s first release since 2014’s Swimmin’ Time — they welcomed their first child in September, have already begun work on another studio record and will launch an intimate listening-room tour in the new year, presumably with baby on board, as well as embarking on a string of dates with Jason Isbell.
“If we have a family, our dynamic might change a little bit,” Hearst said. “I am definitely interested in pimping out my husband to produce records so that I can stay home and be a mom for a little while. Traveling as Shovels & Rope with kids will be a challenge, but we’ll do it.”
Here’s the Busted Jukebox Vol. 1 track listing, with the original artist and guests noted.
1. “Unknown Legend” (Neil Young) – with Shakey Graves
2. “Bullet Belt” (Butch Walker) – with Butch Walker
3. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” (Nick Lowe) – with Lucius
4. “Patience” (Guns N’ Roses) – with The Milk Carton Kids
5. “Boys Can Never Tell” (J Roddy Walston & The Business) – with J Roddy Walston
6. “Nothing Takes the Place of You” (Toussaint McCall) – with JD McPherson
7. “Last” (Nine Inch Nails) – with Caroline Rose
8. “Strangers” (The Kinks) – with In-laws
9. “Perfect Day” (Lou Reed) – with Preservation Hall Jazz Band
10. “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” (Emmylou Harris) – featuring Shovels & Rope