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Sunday, February 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist and Breezy
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Alt-country rowdies Shovels & Rope sing, shout and impress at the High Noon Saloon
Shovels & Rope are a couple of punk rockers playing alt-country music.
Credit:Jenny Herritz

A couple of couples performed at High Noon Saloon last night. In a somewhat cheesy scenario, this show featured two married acts, Shovels & Rope and Shivering Timbers. So who won the Best Couple award? I'd say the award goes to headliners Shovels & Rope.

Shivering Timbers opened the show, led by spouses Sarah and Jayson Benn. They also employ a drummer to accompany them on tour. More importantly, though, they employ their incredibly adorable 4-year-old daughter, Suzi, on a miniature, pink toy piano. With Mrs. Benn on big bass and Mr. Benn on lead guitar, Shivering Timbers' performance brimmed with dark, bluesy folk powered by Sarah's haunting vocals. Little Suzi's tinkering on toy piano intensified the eerie, ghostly vibe during songs like "Crooked Man." Though Sarah embodies a gypsy spirit, I liked Shivering Timbers best during songs like "The Mopping Floor," which showcased the Benns' ability to perform crunchy blues-rock reminiscent of the Black Keys.

Above all, little Suzi Benn stole the show. An adorable kid on a toy piano is bound to do so. Her mother Sarah said it best when she remarked, "I can't be playing second fiddle to my own daughter." I can't wait to hear what kind of music Suzi herself will end up making in 20 years, after growing up on tour with her mom and pop.

When you hear Shovels & Rope though your headphones, you're apt to picture a cute little country-western couple. You'll learn that they're married, and you'll imagine Cary Ann Hearst in a sweet dress, like a modern-day June Carter Cash to Michael Trent's Johnny. But then you'll walk into High Noon, you'll witness them on stage, and you'll be caught off-guard. Cary Ann and Michael are a couple of punk rockers playing alt-country music. Really rowdy, twangy, alt-country music.

Michael and Cary Ann, who both began as solo artists (Trent also spent time as lead singer of the Films), came together in matrimony and music to form Shovels & Rope a couple of years ago. Their musical union has blended folk, country and a little bit of punk. The couple exemplified the highs and lows of marital relations as they made pretty sounds together and then shouted and hollered at one other (Trent scolded his wife as she took a shot from a member of the crowd, saying, "Didn't you learn your lesson last night?"). Regardless, the pair sure can make a lot of noise for only two people, wailing during songs like "Hail, Hail." Meanwhile, "Shank Hill," their murder ballad, demonstrated their softer side and their ability to tenderly harmonize like total lovebirds.

The best line of the night, from the song "Birmingham," was shouted to the audience as an anthem: "It ain't what you got; it's what you make." Shovels & Rope have got two folks, and what they make is good music.

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