Tray Wellington’s “Lift Up Every Stone” moves past musical boundaries

Article Contributed by Mountain Home … | Published on Friday, February 23, 2024

For his first release of 2024, Mountain Home Music Company’s Tray Wellington has chosen once again to challenge assumptions by applying his unique artistic perspective to a song from beyond the musical realm in which his instrument — the 5-string banjo — is usually found. Recorded with members of his Tray Wellington Band and a trio of hand-picked guests, the North Carolina native’s take on John Hiatt’s “Lift Up Every Stone” reveals an artist who is confident that he can disregard musical boundaries — and who has every reason to trust his instincts.

“For me,” says Wellington, “‘Lift Up Every Stone’ encompasses a sense of encouragement to fight through the hard times in life. When I first heard the John Hiatt version of this song, I loved the use of imagery to convey the lifting atmosphere. It was also a chance to try something new musically, which for anything I record, I want to be challenged more and more — and this was the perfect way to step outside of my comfort zone.”

Sure enough, “Lift Up Every Stone” plows new ground by mating Wellington’s banjo, bassist Katelynn Bohn’s booming low end, the mandolin and fiddle of Josiah Nelson and Drew Matulich’s acoustic guitar to the soulful wail of DaShawn Hickman’s steel guitar and powerful harmonies from Wendy Hickman, who matches Tray’s vocal turns before launching into a powerful spotlight turn on a bridge that exemplifies the song’s veiled message:

Now the sun is bloody red
And when it's gone, somebody'll be dead
Don't you cry a tear for me
Because I did what I could just to be free

“I love telling a story where you don't exactly know who's doing what,” Hiatt told Stereophile magazine when the song first appeared at the turn of the century, and Tray Wellington’s take on “Lift Up Every Stone” honors and amplifies both the mystery of the story and the clarity of its darkly foreboding atmosphere in a concise, compelling performance that underlines the maturity and depth of the young bandleader’s musical vision.

"Lift Up Every Stone" is streaming in Dolby Atmos spatial audio on Apple Music, Amazon Music and TIDAL. Listen to it HERE.

About Tray Wellington
Growing up in western North Carolina’s Ashe County, Trajan “Tray” Wellington heard a lot of music — and from the first time he heard the banjo as a young teen, he was, he says, “hooked.” Within a few years, he had joined with a few friends to form Cane Mill Road, an acclaimed band of youngsters whose wide-ranging brand of bluegrass quickly found favor with an equally wide-ranging audience. By the end of 2019, the quartet had released three well-received albums, recorded with bluegrass and Americana star Jim Lauderdale, and performed at festivals across the country, including Grey Fox, Merlefest and the IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass, culminating in a 2019 IBMA Momentum Band of the Year award — and, for Tray, individual recognition as an IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year.

With growing acclaim for his talent and a lengthening list of his own, individual accomplishments — including the release of his debut solo EP; leading workshops at Merlefest and Grey Fox; a coveted position as an assistant at banjo master Bela Fleck’s Blue Ridge Banjo Camp; a cover story interview in Banjo Newsletter; and an invitation to Mike Marshall’s prestigious Acoustic Music Seminar — Wellington decided to blaze his own musical and professional trail, showcasing with his Tray Wellington Band at the IBMA’s virtual World of Bluegrass in the fall of 2020. He returned the following year to host the IBMA’s Momentum Awards ceremony and perform on the organization’s Wide Open Bluegrass festival Main Stage. A recent graduate of East Tennessee State University, Tray currently makes his home in Raleigh, NC, where he works with Pinecone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, when he’s not on the road. The Tray Wellington Band has already appeared at prestigious festivals and venues across the country, including the Pagosa Folk’n’Bluegrass festival, Wintergrass and Winter Wondergrass, with performances at others, such as the Strawberry Festival, Pickin’ In The Pines and Red Wing Roots on the books.