New band of the day (Shovels and Rope No 1,459)

Like the idea of Jack and Meg doing a hoedown? Meet the countryfied White Stripes

Hometown: South Carolina.    

The lineup: Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent.    

The background: Shovels and Rope, a married couple from Mississippi and Colorado, are the countryfied White Stripes. Jack White obviously had a similar thought, because he recently invited them to support him on tour. Like the Stripes, they pore over the minutiae of their period music to the extent that you could conceivably label them authenticity fascists. Cary Ann Hearst's voice has a quality to it, a twang and a rasp, that if you heard on the radio and didn't know she was a new artist, you might mistake for Loretta Lynn. The musical context for that voice is provided by Hearst and her husband, Michael Trent – and give or take the stray intrusion of an instrument or production or rhythmic device, it adheres faithfully to non-expert listeners' idea of what country music should be. Sometimes it sounds like rocked-up or rock'n'roll country, but it's not country-rock – it will probably appeal to fans of Americana in general, but it's not "alternative" in any way. The point is, it doesn't feel like a hybrid. Their music has the purity of country, minus additives or modern accoutrements, with a little blues, gospel and bluegrass used discreetly for extra flavour.

It's accomplished and impressive, particularly if your wish was for two young people to recreate the sound of traditional country music. The pundits have been bowled over: Shovels and Ropes' album O' Be Joyful, released last year in the US, was voted 10th best album of 2012 in an NPR poll, and one of their tracks, Birmingham, topped the chart in the American Songwriters' top 50 songs of 2012. We can see why these people came to these conclusions – but disagree with every fibre of our being. We hate what Shovels and Rope are doing.

That song Birmingham is undeniably redolent of certain well-known female country artistes' oeuvres, and the two players' voices dovetail nicely, and Uncut readers will vomit with glee when they hear it, but we can't help wondering what the point is. Keeper feels as mannered as the most manipulated pop, a set of codified practices brought to life. O' Be Joyful is a strategically planned artefact, and though it will get rave reviews in some quarters it reeks of sophistry and charmless artificial intelligence.

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But surely you can't fail to appreciate something this good at what it sets to do? Yes, you can. It's the ruthlessness that annoys. It stoops to conquer. It panders. Kemba's Got the Cabbage Moth Blues is a horrible hoedown. Why, in 2013, would anyone want to do-si-do their partner? Lay Low and Tickin' Bomb veer more towards slow-burn blues rock, and Carnival is a sepia lament that could be the B-side of a Lana Del Rey single. Those songs are almost bearable. Most of the rest of O' Be Joyful, though, is so desperate to communicate its kinship with country, its whole fallacious mythos, via its language and rhythms and place names – its "fish and grits", as one song has it – that it ends up repelling. Unlike Jonathan Richman, they're not in love with the modern world, they recoil from it, and we in turn recoil from Shovels and Rope.

The buzz: "Mix of country powerhouse lady and indie rock guy."

The truth: They're Jack and Meg with added yee-haws.

Most likely to: Want to come after us with a shovel and some rope.    

Least likely to: Be joyful after they read this.              

What to buy: O' Be Joyful is released by Dualtone on 6 May.

File next to: Elvis Costello, White Stripes, Loretta Lynn, the Traveling Wilburys.


Tuesday's new band: Wild Smiles.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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