Story Behind the Song: Shovels & Rope, ‘Pretty Polly’
Shovels & Rope's 2019 album By Blood includes a song called "Pretty Polly," which is not only a cover but also hundreds of years old. A traditional folk standard, the track has continued to capture the imaginations of country stars up to the present day, showing up in the repertoires of everyone from Sturgill Simpson to Patty Loveless to the rock group Dr. Dog.
Shovels & Rope know that their glammed-up rock version of the standard might not register as a cover of an old song to some of their fans, especially when they're watching the duo perform it live. While it's easy to enjoy the song no matter what, the group's Michael Trent says that knowing the song's backstory makes for an additional "fun fact" for anyone listening -- so, if you didn't know, now you know!
Read on to learn the story behind Shovels & Rope's version of "Pretty Polly," as told by Trent.
We thought it would be cool to make a song in the way that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds reinterpreted [songs] like "Stagger Lee," [and cover the songs in a way] that has your verses, but definitely stays within the story.
We just thought that the type of song that we went for with "Pretty Polly" isn't usually the type of sound that people use when they reinterpret old folk lore, you know? Usually it's some more traditional type of thing, and ours had more of, like, a Tom Petty vibe. So we just sort of took that story and delved into it, read all the different versions of it and everything, and thought it would be cool to give it this type of wrapping.
We're gonna play it on this  tour. I feel like a lot of people, it might blow right by without them making the connection [that it's an old, traditional song]. But it's kind of a fun fact if you know.