Holed up in a Little Rock hotel room, Cary Ann Hearst orders pizza and hand prints the packaging of her new album, Lions and Lambs.
"I'm about to do some lino cutting as we speak," says Hearst, who used a block print to design the first 300 copies of the disc. "As with many Shrimp Records productions, the physical packaging is an evolution."
Hearst and husband Michael Trent (also her partner in duo Shovels and Rope) are among the half-dozen partners who run the local label/collective Shrimp Records. Shrimp released Hearst's five-song Are You Ready to Die last year, followed by Trent's 11-song solo slab The Winner. The Shrimp family includes songwriters Owen Beverly, Joel T. Hamilton, Sadler Vaden, and Bill Carson.
Attendees at Hearst's album release show on Friday evening should be able to find one of the limited-run handmade CDs. They'll also get the first chance to see Cary Ann back at home in about two months, after a busy winter of touring across the South and Midwest.
"Only a crazy person goes to Chicago in December," laughs Hearst about the snowstorms she and Trent endured during their travels. "We haven't seen our friends in a long time. We get quite homesick out here."
Friends and Shrimp Records cohorts like Hamilton and Jamie Resch will perform their own sets before joining Hearst on stage in a final collaboration full of classics and favorite old covers.
Hearst's maturing sound seems to step back in time with each recording. "She's a little more country with every record," comments friend and fellow local songwriter Campbell Brown.
It's true; Lions and Lambs is generously peppered with dense multi-tracks of Hearst's distinct high-wail, harmonizing with herself. Although songs have names like "Are You Ready to Die?," "Hell's Bells," and "Forsaken Blues," the general vibe is upbeat, a hybrid of classic country balladry and newer wave Americana.
On the web in September, Hearst premiered a stylishly produced video clip for the love/hate song "Hell's Bells." It stunned old friends and new fans with its silvery black and white film quality and ghoulish imagery. A placard appeared at the beginning of the video that read, "Now here's the story of a love almost right, gone awfully wrong." The tune also received national exposure last summer when HBO's True Blood used it in the closing credits of an episode.
Hearst and Trent recorded Lions and Lambs in Los Angeles with engineer Butch Walker (of the Marvelous 3) at the mixing board. Walker, a Rolling Stone magazine Producer of the Year, worked alongside Jake Sinclair, one of Trent's bandmates in his long-running pop-rock band the Films.
Hearst has plans to press the album to vinyl this spring after she and Trent spend February touring Texas with lauded songwriter Hayes Carll (Hearst sings on his upcoming album). They already have plans to work in the studio on the next Shovels and Rope album.
It's a busy life for the young songwriter, who spent more time in Nashville, Denver, and Mississippi than at home in recent days. We'd better get used to that. Lions and Lambs doesn't just sound like a good record for Charleston. In the right hands, its appeal could easily send Hearst to the top floor of the Little Rock Hilton, ordering lobster bisque from room service. But chances are, she'll still be hand-cutting those CD covers.