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Songs We Love: Shovels & Rope, 'St. Anne's Parade'

On Mardi Gras morning in New Orleans, if you wake up early enough and head to the Bywater neighborhood — preferably decked out in your most outrageous costume — you're likely to collide with the Krewe of St. Anne as it begins its annual Carnival parade. The society is known for the elaborate, handcrafted, often topical disguises its members don for the broadly inclusive spectacle. (The only criterion for membership, according to the Krewe's website, is "that you know about it.") By day's end, St. Anne's has made its way down to the riverbank, where paraders who've lost loved ones in the past year scatter the ashes of the departed over the Mississippi's waters. Like a funeral ceremony's second line, the ritual smudges the distinction between mourning and celebration.

"St. Anne's Parade," the new single from Americana duo Shovels & Rope's forthcoming album Little Seeds, likewise embraces a glorious muddle of joy and grief — the beauty of life despite the certainty of death. "Sang out our hearts while they sent away their dead," Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent sing in compelling harmony, describing the parade's end. "The sun shone on the river, we began our lives instead."

Shovels & Rope, <em>Little Seeds</em>.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Shovels & Rope, Little Seeds.

Duality isn't unfamiliar subject matter for Hearst and Trent, who are wife and husband as well as musical partners. They've often explored the fine lines between good and evil, sacred and sinful, in songs that function as complex character studies. What's surprising is the open fragility the duo conveys, with their voices sounding ragged over a delicate patchwork of mandolin, sparse piano and touches of reverb-y guitar. It culminates in the song's refrain, sung so it feels like it's breaking from emotion: "This life may be too good to survive."

The video for "St. Anne's Parade" was directed by The Moving Picture Boys, a.k.a. Jace Freeman and Sean Clark of Nashville, Tenn., who also created a 2014 documentary about Shovels & Rope. Between backlit shots of the duo singing at a vintage microphone, the video depicts an actual Krewe of St. Anne foot parade in which Trent, Hearst and friends, adorned with glittering Mardi Gras beads, are participants. "Friends of ours had a 'The Owl And The Pussycat'-themed wedding party that marched with St. Anne's," Hearst and Trent tell NPR via email. "They took their vows on the riverbank while the sun shone down on a previously rainy morning. Everyone was feeling sweet and love was all around."

Little Seeds is out Oct. 7 via New West.

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