Album reviews: Shovels and Rope, Sleep Cycles, Justin Townes Earle

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Album reviews: Shovels and Rope, Sleep Cycles, Justin Townes Earle

Shovels and Rope

Swimmin’ Time/Dualtone

On Swimmin’ Time, their third album, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are in top form. Whether they amble through Americana numbers like “The Devil Is All Around,” or stomp out ominous rockers like “Evil,” the duo demonstrates they have a firm handle on a variety of genres (plus the echoing “Fish Assassin” sounds as lively as something from a Holy Ghost Revival). They juxtapose notions of good and evil throughout, often giving their protagonists a healthy dose of skepticism about religion (“Pinned”) or at the very least about some of religion’s enthusiasts (“Swimmin’ Time”), and they do it in a passionate, engaging manner. Hearst and Trent complement each other vocally, with Hearst playing the raspy showstopper in the vein of Janis Joplin, while Trent provides more of a solid foundation for vocals to stand on to make Swimmin’ some electric stuff.

Sleep Cycles

Hibernation/self-released

If you like lo-fi recordings, then you’ll want to check out Max Holder a.k.a. Sleep Cycles. His debut self-titled release features eight richly constructed tracks and features a variety of sounds. Hypnotic, quiet electric guitars carry you along on a current of audio water in the gorgeous “Café Waltz,” while “Just a Couple” uses a distant-sounding beat loop to lay the groundwork for this dreamy track. “Get Sleep” scores points as an outside-the-box interlude with its unusual combination of Holder’s muffled voice leaving a voice mail while rain steadily hits the pavement nearby. Holder strikes an interesting note as a singer, with higher- pitched vocals nicely offset by his muted delivery—a nice effect that successfully augments the album’s overall ambient quality, making for a neat under-the-radar release.

Justin Townes Earle

Single Mothers/Vagrant

The new record from acclaimed singer- songwriter Earle is a low key dandy. Earle often leads the way with a subtle delivery, in a voice rarely approaching anything remotely loud, and the songs pack quite a punch as a result. Whether it’s the bluesy folk title track—with its story of broken families—or a groovy classic rock number like “My Baby Drives” which depicts a woman in control of the relationship, Earle’s keen sense of melody and song structure augment whatever tale he’s telling. He tugs at your heart strings on the true blue country track about a deceased mother (“Picture in a Drawer”) and dives headlong into that itch we sometimes get when we want to disconnect ourselves from life (“Wanna be a Stranger”), covering a broad range of heady subjects with aplomb.