Album Reviews: ‘Handwritten,’ ‘O’ Be Joyful’

Sorry it’s been a while since my last update – been too busy with Elvis!

But I’ve been listening to a lot of music, so let me tell you all about it…

“O’ Be Joyful,” Shovels & Rope

Shovels & Rope are kind of like the Alabama Shakes: on record, they sound great, but live, they sound unbelievable and you’ll swear this is the best live band you’ve ever heard. Thing is, though, I think Shovels & Rope sounds almost as good on record as they do live.

Husband-and-wife team Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have released solo records and a few things here and there, but “O’ Be Joyful” is their debut. When the duo plays live, they switch up on drums and guitar and share singing duties, but they manage to make quite a loud noise. That sound is fleshed out a bit on “O’ Be Joyful” but it isn’t overproduced. It sounds just like them, but a tiny bit polished. Take, for example, “Tickin’ Bomb” – one many fans know already as a bare-bones, sexy love song. But on this record, it’s a bit shinier, with cool horns.

The record starts out with the rollicking “Birmingham,” which is basically the pair’s origin story. That’s the great thing about Shovels & Rope: these two are storytellers. Whether they’re telling how they met or who they’ve met out on the road or some made-up drama, you’re hooked from start to finish.

They keep that country-rock swagger up until they slow it down, with the emotionally heavy “Lay Low” and the graceful “Carnival.” Shovels & Rope is the rare band that can make you stomp your feet and yell one minute, but make you sway (and maybe cry in your beer) the next.

Shovels & Rope is one of my favorite bands. They are so incredibly talented, and that talent shines through on this wonderful debut. There is not a bad song on this record. There’s not even a good song on this record. Every single song is terrifc. It’s really that good. You will not be disappointed!

“Handwritten,” The Gaslight Anthem

Let me start by saying this: I love, love, love The Gaslight Anthem. A lot of folks compare them to Springsteen, and I get that, but I also hear a lot of Jackson Browne. What I’m saying is, this band talks about life as it is, in a really honest and beautiful way. But The Gaslight Anthem likes to rock, so there’s lots of awesome punk influence.

I have everything else this Jersey band’s ever released, so how does this new record, “Handwritten,” stack up? It’s just as good. Since this is their major label debut, it sounds just a bit more slick, but that was expected, really.

Otherwise, it sounds like another great Gaslight Anthem record. I am in love with “45,” the lead single, and the title track – both have intense lyrics with an incredible beat and energy.

But the best song on the album is “Here Comes My Man.” It kicks off with a Wall of Sound/”Be My Little Baby” throwback, but then the song begins to chug along, calming down only for the chorus: “Singing, oh sha la la, oh, sha la la/Listen, honey, here comes my man.” It just sounds so classic.

Other favorite tracks include “Biloxi Parish,” “National Anthem,” “Howl” and “Mulholland Drive.”

The Gaslight Anthem’s music doesn’t dramatically change from record to record; the band basically either rocks a little harder or a lttle less on each one. But on every record, they offer up solid melodies and lyrics, and this one’s no different. Don’t expect anything other than more of the same Gaslight Anthem you’v heard before. That may disappoint some, but for a big fan like me, I find it comforting. This band is consistent.

OK guys, here’s my ONE complaint…
There are three bonus tracks, and two of them are – and I NEVER thought I’d say this about Gaslight Anthem – some of the worst songs ever. “Blue Dahlia” sounds like a very young, immature band who doesn’t have it together. There’s great energy, but just sounds wrong.

*Update: I complained about “Sliver” – complaining about the lyrics, etc., – and then a friend clued me in that it’s a Nirvana cover. Duh. It was obviously never a favorite Nirvana song (I always skipped it), so I certainly don’t like this cover… oh well.

The one good bonus track, and worth your $1.29, is a cover of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ “You Got Lucky.” It’s straightforward and really good.
Otherwise…well… thank goodness for songs like “Here Comes My Man,” which make up for those two mistakes.

What are you listening to these days?