Husband and wife Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, each accomplished Charleston, S.C. songwriters, released Shovels & Rope's proper debut (as the wedded couple) O' Be Joyful in 2012 — and its single "Birmingham" took home song of the year at the 2013 Americana Music Honors & Awards. (The duo also was named emerging artist of the year the same week Dr. John took home a lifetime achievement award.)
The song (and album) introduces the whirlwind Southern traveling band (specifically, how a "Delta Mama and a Nickajack Man raised their Cumberland daughters in a Tennessee band"), one of the album's rambling storytelling tunes. It's a sweeping, semi-autobiographical dip into how the two got married, and it's a fitting opening cut for the perpetually road-bound band. Songs on O' Be Joyful were recorded in musty motels and in their van, sometimes with their hound dog Townes, whose barks are buried deep in the mix. Hearst's raspy twang bursts into Loretta Lynn squeaks, harmonizing with Trent through the album's ballads and barnburners. "Birmingham" winds down with a hat tip to New Orleans as the song's couple begins its new and a little dangerous adventure: "Made a little money playing in the bars / with two beat up drums and two old guitars. / From the Crescent City to the Great Salt Lake / it ain't what you got, it's what you make."