Guns blazing

Photo by Harper Smith
Photo by Harper Smith

Jimmy Brown is from Ireland, but he considers North Carolina to be home. Probably because that’s where his band, Matrimony, is based. And because that band, as its name suggests, is a family affair. It began with Brown and his wife, Ashlee Hardee Brown (and whomever they could find to fill out the lineup for live shows) and grew to include Ashlee’s brothers CJ Hardee (banjo and mandolin) and Jordan Hardee (drums).

So, if home is where the heart is, wherever the group travels (and they log some serious miles), they’re already home. But, says Jimmy, “We love Charlotte and we love the music scene here. Everyone asks if we’ll move to New York or L.A., and we’re like, why?

But the question isn’t a crazy one: Matrimony signed with Columbia Records a year and a half ago and the major label just released the band’s EP, Montibello Drive. The four songs in that collection are big and richly orchestrated, though Jimmy says it’s not necessarily a change in direction from 2010 debut, The Storm & The Eye. That record was rooted in folk, though it more than hinted at the raucous power captured on Montibello.

Besides the lineup, what has changed? “We don’t have fiddle and not as much accordion,” says Jimmy. “The live show is more rockin’.”

That means something, coming from a band that has always been known for its high-energy live performance. It’s also great news, since Matrimony is slated to play Bele Chere. The group loves outdoor events, says Jimmy. “Everybody’s in that festival mood. With a club gig, you just never know.” They shined at Bonnaroo this year where, along with a brag-worthy set they also “did a bluegrass thing,” as Jimmy puts it, with The Bluegrass Situation, a resource/hub/festival/traveling event created, in part, by Ed Helms of The Office and The Hangover.

Matrimony is decidedly not a bluegrass band, though. At least not usually. Montibello Drive is based in American roots — there’s “Mecklenberg County Jail,” written and sung by Ashlee, a spin on the traditional prison song. Opener “Golden City” is banjo fueled and powerful, with a vocal duet and a jangly, driving beat that propels the whole album. “Obey Your Guns,” one of the band’s older songs, also builds into huge moments, which Jimmy says the band feels as succinctly as the audience does.

And the songs morph from night to night, live show to live show: something a group of musicians can do when they know each other like family. “We never even talk about what we’re going to do,” says Jimmy. “That’s the magic in this band.”

Matrimony plays the Coxe Avenue Stage on Saturday, 4:45-6 p.m. 
— A.M.

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