Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
luegrass banjo man Tray Wellington was making his debut in the Boston area fronting a quartet bearing his name. It was a good thing that he and his three band mates did not focus on the fact that about 30 people showed up. Instead, fortunately, the music was at the forefront and on that score, Wellington et al made the most of it - for the most part.
The North Carolina native is touring behind "Black Banjo," out last year on the bluegrass label Mountain Home, his first full-length effort, which attracted attention. Deservedly so. This guy can play. The International Bluegrass Music Association hit it right when it accorded Wellington the 2019 Momentum Award Instrumentalist of the Year, an honor bestowed upon up and coming acts. While one might typically of banjo players as speed demons, Wellington offered more finesse to his playing.
Wellington may be the name of the group and seemingly attract the most attention, but this was a band. Nick Weitzenfeld was very sharp on acoustic guitar with his nimble playing. Mandolin player Josiah Nelson, who was with Wellington and Weitzenfeld at East Tennessee State University and formed the group as a result, was a standout as well. Ditto for the more understated upright bassist Kaitlynn Bohn. They traded off one another in typical bluegrass fashion with each having numerous chances to shine on songs ranging from "Crooked Mind" to the instrumental "Nightfall Rendezvous." They were downright lyrical on "Strasbourg/St. Denis" with Mile 12's Ella Jordan guesting.
The only shortcoming from Wellington was that neither his vocals nor Weitzenfeld's vocals were especially compelling from both him and Weitzenfeld. They get the job done, but neither made you perk up and take notice. Nelson, on the other hand, was the best of the three with a bit more engagement with the material. He gave the material a bit more of a country lilt.
When all four members brought it – as they did on "Dark Hollar," David Grisman's "16/16" and particularly on their new release, "The Pursuit of Happiness," for example, and did more and more as the evening wore on – it was easy to see why the Tray Wellington Band is gaining acclaim.