If you’re a fan of the current wave of earnest roots-rockers (The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, Langhorne Slim & the Law, Mumford & Sons) then Charlotte, N.C.’s Matrimony is probably playing your tune.
The family group (husband and wife Jimmy Brown and Ashlee Hardee Brown, with Ashlee’s brothers CJ and Jordan Hardee, and brother-from-another mother, Ethan Ricks) took the stage at Coxe Avenue yesterday afternoon. (You can read an interview with Jimmy here.) Their set (possibly seen by the most audience members with pastel hair) was energetic from start to finish — even with a rain shower at the end — and ranged from rockers and power ballads to romantic slow songs that built to fevered pitches.
CJ played banjo on many of the songs (one of the elements that keeps the group anchored in the roots realm), but he also pulled out an electric ukulele foe one number, a light balance to the intense and ragged edge of Jimmy’s vocal. Jimmy and Ashlee took turns singing lead — her vocal is smoother and poppier, and even her stomp-ballad, “Mecklenburg Co. Jail” was delivered with a sort of polish that elevated the twist on a traditional prison song to a new level. During that song, a couple waltzed in the crowd.
Jimmy, though originally from Ireland, invokes Southern soul. His voice rose like an airplane taking off at the pinnacle of the songs on which he sang lead. And while most of Matrimony’s tracks are built in layers of instrumentation and intensity, it was the raw keen in Jimmy’s voice that opened each song out into its expansive possibility. Meanwhile, Jordan’s drumming was thick and driving.
It was that drumming, the bigness of it, that turned even slower songs with their plaintive notes into the kind of well-timed bombast that whipped the crowd into, if not a full-on frenzy (this was well before dusk and blood alcohol saturation), certainly happy revelry.
Matrimony played a number of songs from the band’s new EP, Montibello Drive: “Golden City” and “Giant” were among those. They also did a rendition of Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly,” which was largely unrecognizable — thanks in part to CJ’s understated banjo (other roots-rock outfits could take a lesson) — until the chorus.
Photos by John Zara.