It seems like the dust has barely settled since brothers Dillon and Jantzen Wray disbanded their last project, Old North State, and regrouped as Carolina Wray. But in the time it’s taken for many of us to adjust to the name change, Asheville-based Carolina Wray has already released an album (Long Road Home), two EPs (Great White Buffalo and Great White Shark) and gone on tour.
The professionalism and drive required for that kind of productivity were on display at the duo’s recent 5 Walnut show. The wine bar was standing-room-only and sauna-warm, but the Wrays were cool from start to finish. The brothers share vocal duties and both play multiple instruments. Dillon keeps beat with a bass drum and kick pedal while playing guitar and singing hooks and choruses; Jantzen plays banjo, electric guitar and harmonica and usually sings lead.
Highlights from the evening included tracks from the new EPs. Earnest slow-dance “Heaven” — a poppy country two-step — recalled all the unhurried sweetness of first dates and Sunday drives. “Wingman,” hooky and breathless with controlled longing, paired rhythmic urgency and dynamism.
“Long Road Home,” another slower offering, featured an especially plaintive harmonica. That instrument, like the banjo, seems somehow more of a musical accent than a folk-kitsch accessory in the Carolina Wray repertoire. Jantzen’s banjo playing tends to be melodic and a light touch instead of a Mumford and Sons-esque assault. His vocals, too, are duskier compared to Dillon’s emphatic singing style. Dillon’s playing — both on strings and percussion — is a focused attack. But the brothers’ distinct approaches enhance rather than contrast each other, the gentle banjo rolls an apt foil to the driving snare rolls.
If Old North State was an Americana band and Carolina Wray is more inline with radio-friendly pop-country (albeit with a thoughtful edge), the intersection of the projects in early rock roots and country soul. The punchy single, “America,” has enough stomp that one 5 walnut listener — in a plaid skirt and cashmere sweater no less — dropped it like it was hot. And, like the duo’s song “Rock & Roll” says, “No matter where I’m at, sweet music’s got my back. I love that rock ‘n’ roll. I feel it deep in my soul.” Any band with that as its philosophy can ‘t go wrong.