Husband-and-wife folk duo Chatham Rabbits have always tied their music to their North Carolina surroundings. Even their name is a nod to a booming regional rabbit industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when a large Eastern cottontail population turned Chatham County into a southeastern hub of rabbit hunting and trade.
The band’s first album, 2018’s All I Want From You, was written for and about their then-home base of Bynum, North Carolina. But when it came time to write their second project, The Yoke Is Easy, The Burden Is Full, Chatham Rabbits had recently moved to an 11-acre farm and deepened their connection as a couple and family. Their previously established penchant for writing about what was around them both expanded and turned inward.
The resulting new project is a gentle, inquisitive meditation on that transition, as bandmates Austin and Sarah McCombie think back on their communities, natural surroundings, and relationship with each other.
The instrumental lines — Sarah on banjo, Austin on acoustic guitar — are just as much starring characters as are their two voices, each element serving a purpose in telling the project’s whimsical, intricate stories. Whether the songs are lonely, like in the forlorn “I Grew Up Loving Jesus,” or irrepressibly optimistic, as in the album-opening “Clean Slate,” there’s an overarching sense of peace in the music that comes from satisfying harmonies and delicately crafted instrumental riffs.
In this project, Chatham Rabbits’ stories feel more personal and deeply current than ever before, but there are still connections to history. The duo finds especially compelling portals to earlier musical times through Sarah’s banjo line, evoking an old-time Appalachian musical tradition in songs like “Old and Blue.”
For this duo, braiding centuries-old musical traditions with modern-day stories and personal perspectives comes naturally. They’re helped along by an instrument-forward musical approach, but what really allows Chatham Rabbits to nail that pairing is their knack for telling timeless stories. On The Yoke Is Easy, The Burden Is Full, the duo expands the scope of their stories, with compelling results.