Children’s album exceeds expectations
Shovels & Rope, from South Carolina, has been busy. Releasing an album almost every year since 2012, they have traveled through most of folk’s territory. Known for their vocals, specifically harmonies, they have put out multiple fairly popular songs such as “Unknown Legend” and “Birmingham.” With their newest album—a continuation from their previous Busted Jukebox albums—they decided to do something different on Busted Jukebox Volume 3.
A collection of well-known children’s songs lead couple Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst to invite some of their fellow folk artists on the album with them. From artists like Sharon Van Etten to M. Ward to Shrimp Records Family Band, Shovels & Rope focus on helping the songs along with their harmonies rather than dominating them. The result is a fairly calming and interesting children’s album.
The first of the children’s songs people hear is “Hush Little Baby.” Beginning with an acoustic guitar and a banjo, it is highly reminiscent of most of the versions people have heard in bed at night from a loved one. Yet, then it builds to proclaim its folk background with a rhythmic drum and clap track. After this, the tides change and listeners hear the light, charming sounds of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” turned into a punk-like rendition. Hauntingly beautiful, Shovels & Rope teams up with singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten to put a kicking beat behind the usually-bright song making the listener question if it really is appropriate for a lullaby album. It’s something to love about this song.
More familiarity is thrown at listeners when they come to the next track on the project, “What a Wonderful World.” Any trace of Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice is done away with for a smooth, melodic vocalization from John Paul White. He is then accompanied by the band, yet still just over a singular guitar. Harmonies and the song’s original melody carry the song to the end—simple yet captivating.
The thing that keeps popping out about this album is that this group can take a normal song, keep its original tempo and grace, and make it interesting and engaging. “You Are My Sunshine” with The Felice Brothers is one of the best examples of this. Melodically and stylistically, this track differs from every other time people have heard this. However, musically, instruments such as keyboards, drums and even some subtle synths show the growth of the track through the eyes of Shovels & Rope.
“My Little Buckaroo,” with M. Ward, gives the impression of a dreamscape in an old Western movie, but only if they had found voice modifiers. A mandolin, strings and harmonica give the track its dreaminess while the modulator on M. Ward’s voice threw the entire picture off. This song functions as an actual lullaby: “Go to sleep my little buckaroo.” “Everybody Hurts” continues on with that idea of keeping the roots of the song similar while changing the feeling. This one features T. Hardy Morris. Covering R.E.M’s original masterpiece, it gets the Shovels & Rope treatment with its folk drums and harmonic background voices.
Not necessarily the best, but without hesitation, “The Ants Go Marching” is the most unexpected track on the album, not only because of its wild musical tendencies but its strength. It begins with a steady drum, almost like a war drum, and the hurried, intense declaration of the ants marching. The song itself sounds like a march. Choppy and powerful with interjections of random instruments and voices, the chaos of the anthill is captured. This track is made for an energized toddler in the back seat of a car who needs to shimmy a little.
“Tomorrow” concludes this record and features The War and Treaty. It’s a cover of the song from Annie. A beautiful, full voice dances above single piano notes just barely guiding the melody. Another voice soon joins the first, adding some layer; however, these single piano notes ad two voices carry on to the end of the album.
Albums are made by the artist from a particular perspective on the way the world works. But just as importantly, albums are also made by the artist for a particular audience. This must always be taken into account. How well do you think a Willie Nelson CD would sell in the streets of Nicaragua—get my point? And this album was written for children. So for what they are trying to do, this is a successful album. However, Busted Jukebox Volume 3 is not something that would play in a car on a nightly drive home. The diversity in thought is appreciable when it comes to timeless children’s classics, but at the end of the day, that is all that many of these songs will ever be.