The packaging for Woodgrain Heart, the debut EP from Chapel Hill duo Birds & Arrows, consists of a slim cardboard sleeve that's been spray painted a deep cerulean shade, the band's name written in a comfortable, slightly sloppy script across the top in coarse black marker. A rudimentary cutout of a human heart printed onto the sort of lumber laminate you'd use to line kitchen cabinets sits at the middle. Tucked inside, the liner notes are printed onto a single sheet of tawny paper with doodles and lyrics and acknowledgments packed onto one side, pictures of price tags and the band set in a grid on the other. It's a decidedly handmade production, the sort of thing bandmates attached at the hip make while watching the sun come up, an old record spinning on a nearby stereo.
Indeed, Pete and Andrea Connolly (neé Nell) wed in October, becoming the most recent addition to the Triangle's excellent collegium of married bands that includes The Rosebuds, Work Clothes and Waumiss. And their work—warm, emotional, poetic folk music played tenderly and gingerly—thrives on the relationship's intimacy, spinning songs from domestic images like the blue flickering flame of a gas burner and the trove of persistent memories that remain like love's kindling. Andrea, who sings and plays guitar in the bluegrass quartet Sweet By & By, takes the lead on three of the EP's six tracks, turning in a slow-burning performance on opener "Garden Shed" and layering her reverb-tinged vocals over banjo and handclaps on the title track. With a voice that's as workmanlike as it is worn, Pete adds a jangly lift to his tracks, like the mandolin-abetted "Old Man Winter" or the structurally convoluted "Black Shoes." But, as things should be, the Connollys sound best when they sing together, their complementary voices wrapping together in rustic contentment and comfort, like a happy pair making music because that's how love makes them feel. These six splendid songs beg for those feelings to continue.
Birds & Arrows plays Friday, Jan. 16, with Gray Young at The Cave. The late show begins at 10 p.m.