While there’s not a lot of subtlety to Barn Party by Carolina Wray — “Sittin’ over there with that lighter in your hand tryin’ to pop that top, don’t you know that it’s a twist off?” they sing on the title track — it’s explosive, fun and exactly what is it says it is. A party.
Brothers Dillon and Jantzen Wray traded the acoustic roots-rock of their previous band, Old North State for bristling, electrified roots-rock. So there are plenty of points on intersection between that previous project and the current duo. “Raccoon,” with Tom Petty-esque harmonica and ambling kick drum is pleasantly laid back. It’s both reminiscent of Petty’s chart-topping days and other pre-Americana stars like John Mellencamp. “Magic” retains the relaxed beat but adds power chords and effects-laden vocals that take the song off the country road and place it squarely in pop territory.
Then again, it gets harder and harder to separate pop, Southern rock and Top 40 country these days, and the Wrays seamlessly blend a checklist from each genre. “Heartbreaker,” sung hard and unleashing guttural screams into peals of crunchy guitar, nods to Molly Hatchet as much as the Outlaws.
There’s a definite alchemy to the sound of Barn Party. Its influences, from Springsteen to current chart climbers like Zac Brown Band, are carefully curated, yet each song is as unfussy as an impromptu jam. There’s polish but also the wisdom to keep things loose and just a little rough around the edges. “Bring it Back,” a skipping melody with a sweet harmony, is an easy love song. Neither cloying nor melancholy, the breezy song is nice foil to the album’s more pummeling tracks — like the dark and driving “Another Round.”
“Lazy Lover,” snappy and syncopated, offers yet another version of the country-meets-rock-meets-pop crossroads where Carolina Wray seems to live. On the recording, its crisp lyrical delivery, warm guitar tones and lithe solos are all especially remarkable.
The Wrays sometimes play with a full band, but they also manage to accomplish a big sound with just two musicians. That’s no surprise, though. Back in the Old North State days they’d mastered instrument swaps and drums played with pedals. And while they’ve always been dynamic players, their versatility has grown. Barn Party makes for a good Friday night play list — it also suggests a varied and engaging live show.
Catch them next at Jack of the Wood on Saturday, May 28, at 9 p.m. Hoot & Holler opens. $5.