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First Watch: Shovels & Rope, 'Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan'

There's a beautiful metaphor for the good matrimony can do in the middle of "Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan," a rollicking two-step from South Carolina's hitched and hoppin' duo Shovels & Rope, released on last year's Swimmin' Time. In the song's fantastic, earthy story, maimed war veteran Dan has wandered into a circus tent, where he meets Mary Ann, who serves snacks to the showgoers. Charmed and alarmed by her presence, he drags her willingly out beneath the stars. That's when it happens: "She picked a flower and fastened it onto his bad eye / She said, 'Come on, let's get married, I think we might get along.'"

The right match doesn't always heal a person's imperfections, but it can show how even our wounds can be beautiful. In the video for "One Eyed Dan & Mary Ann," directed by artist-of-all-trades using dolls designed by , Dan and Marianne come to upcycled life, and the floral remedy is a delicate green. As they fall in love, the circus whirls around them: a troublemaking lion, some horn-playing woodland creatures, a witch doctor who serves as their wedding minister. Shovels & Rope's Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are the freaks in this show, which comically puts humans in the position circus animals usually occupy while connecting the duo to the vaudeville legacy the song also mines. (Watch all the way through for some B-roll worthy of Hee Haw.)

Kids ought to love this video, but its ultimate message is a grown-up one: We adults come to each other damaged, like dolls who've been thrown around the playroom, and we have to learn to love each other's ripped patches and lumps. Hearst and Trent send that message forth in every performance — they're Americana's beloved ruffian couple — and give it a lovely centering narrative here, aided by their creative collaborators, who remind us that a toy story can be for everyone.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.