There’s something quite primal about experiencing live music at The Ruby Lounge in Manchester. As you descend the stairs into the dark basement of the venue situated in the heart of the city, a distinct sense of anticipation begins to build as you approach the stage. Low ceilings and the absence of a pit in front of the shallow stage enhance the intimacy of the club, helping to generate an arresting harmony that this evening’s show quickly engenders. For a band like Shovels and Rope, this is the perfect environment to express their musical passion and the clear bond that exists between the couple elevates their music and the evening to even greater heights.
Matthew Logan Vasquez may be better known to some as the lead singer from American band The Delta Spirit, but he has recently been making quite a mark as a wandering troubadour of some distinction. He thrilled supporting Nathaniel Rateliff earlier in the year but the compact confines of this evening’s venue bring out the deliciously wicked side of this performer in the support slot. New tracks from his forthcoming album Does What He Wants are presented in a spirited yet low key manner that mirrors the political angst and personal anxieties that inhabit his songs. Being able to see the whites of his eyes in The Ruby Lounge tonight, there is a palpable sense that the self-deprecating, witty stage persona we are presented with is the real Matthew Logan Vasquez and it’s an absolute joy to be in his company.
Shovels and Rope are husband and wife duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst and they have routinely been placed under the folky Americana label ever since their debut album release in 2008. The label is a tad broad however, failing to cover the band’s more complex DNA, suggesting a more subtle brand of traditional music compared to the rollicking fare the South Carolina duo serve up this evening. Sure, there is a clear association to the genre but Shovels and Rope have allowed their own personalities and relationship to dynamically alter the end product so that it becomes almost impossible to pigeonhole the band. Swimmin’ Time opens the show and is an intoxicating case in point. Michael Trent provides dark and ominous percussive elements, combining dramatically with Cary Ann’s fiercely impassioned vocals which generate a foreboding gothic spirit of the bayou which we are gradually released from with the more traditional and evocative Gasoline, along with the boisterous Invisible Man which addresses Trent’s father’s Alzheimers. It’s all thrilling and very personal stuff, performed with an infectious vigour which is pretty incredible considering the couple are both suffering from a serious bout of road flu tonight. Michael Trent’s vocals may be slightly less brutal as a result, but the band’s success this evening develops energetically from the clear rapport that exist between the pair, both musically and personally, and a medicinal dose from a bottle of Jameson’s certainly seems to help as well!
As the show progresses the folky Americana label is certainly starting to become a distant memory. Tickin’ Bomb smolders seductively, it’s bluesy White Stripes dynamic developing raucously into the thrilling Hollowpoint Blues, taken from the couple’s debut record. Although 2016’s brilliant Little Seeds has been the catalyst for this current tour, we are treated to numerous highlights from all of the band’s long players and the evening certainly doesn’t feel like a promotional exercise as the band embark on a clearly personal rendition of St Anne’s Parade which once again provides an evocative insight into the importance of landscape, friendship and those special musical relationships that appear to be inherent within their material.
Missionary Ridge provides an authentic and insightful history lesson about an American Civil War battle yet, as the show begins to head towards it’s conclusion, it is incredible to consider how uplifting the evening has actually been. Spending time in the company of two musicians who live and breathe for the opportunity to share their passion is inspiring stuff, particularly when we are allowed to experience it in such revealing and intimate surroundings.
Shovels and Rope
Matthew Logan Vasquez
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto