Americana music covers a lot of territory, and Ethan Robbins and Ariel Bernstein seem determined to explore it all.
Known collectively as Cold Chocolate, the drum and guitar combo, who’ll be giving an afternoon performance on Saturday, Jan. 11, at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, includes elements of folk, funk, bluegrass, and jazz in its musical mix.
Often playing and recording as a “duo plus” band, Cold Chocolate will be minus the plus when they come to Wellfleet. Robbins will be playing both acoustic and electric guitar. Accordion player Tom Leidenfrost will be their opening act.
Formed in 2012, Cold Chocolate grew out of informal jam sessions with friends. The two musicians are classically trained — Robbins on violin, Bernstein on percussion — and were traveling in different musical directions when their paths crossed.
“I was coming at the band from the bluegrass side of things, and Ariel was coming at it from the rock ’n’ roll, funk side of things. We were in different musical worlds,” says Robbins, the guitarist in the group, who lists the Grateful Dead, David Grisman, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, and the Band among his influences.
“It didn’t click right away,” Robbins says of his musical merger with Bernstein, “but we worked at it, and we kind of figured out how the music fit us. We didn’t try to force anything. It just kind of organically, over time, grew into what it is.”
The group has since released three albums. A fourth, Down the Line, is in the can and scheduled for release in the summer. The band’s most recently released recording, 2016’s “The Way Back,” shows its diversity as Robbins and Bernstein (along with vocalist-bassist Kirsten Lamb) make their way through a series of folky, funky original numbers and eclectic covers, including Utah Phillips’s bitter folk ballad, “Rock, Salt and Nails”; the ’30s standard “(It’s a) Sin to Tell a Lie”; and the Patsy Cline country classic “Crazy.”
In its upcoming album, Cold Chocolate continues to venture and explore musically. “I’d say it’s a little funkier than our previous albums,” Robbins says. “It’s a little, perhaps for lack of a better word, ‘jammy.’ We’re trying to push the boundaries of what we’re capable of. We’re not trying to pin ourselves down.”
A pre-release listen reveals a fuller, electric sound, augmented by bass, piano, and swirly organ. The album kicks off with the hard-rocking “Follow Far Behind,” before moving on to the more familiar folk-funk of “Before the Sun.” Further down the playlist, Cold Chocolate shows its soulful side with “Where I Go,” a cut that with a tweak or two could be straight-up Stax. Following that is the gospel-infused “Sing Me Back,” before the album ends at a blistering pace with “Gone.”
“I started writing the album about the time I found out that my daughter was going to be born, so the songs are sort of thematically based around her and the life changes that go along with that, being on the road and away from home,” Robbins says. He is the songwriter of the team, and Bernstein brings his ideas into play in the arrangements.
“A lot of times the song will stay exactly the way I went in, and other times it will come out in a totally different way that I never really expected,” Robbins says. “And that’s my favorite part of being in a project with Ariel — we trust each other musically, and we aren’t beholden to any certain, specific ideas about anything. We just let the idea flow, and it usually comes out a better product then we could have imagined.”
And, most important, it reflects their own eclectic tastes. “Basically, we just write the kind of music we like to listen to, and we don’t want to box ourselves into just one style, because we like so many different kinds of music,” Robbins says. “For a band like ours, I think that not having one specific thing that we do really keeps that energy exciting.”
Some Like It Cold
The event: Cold Chocolate in concert, with accordionist Tom Leidenfrost
The time: Saturday, Jan. 11, at 4 p.m.
The place: Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St.
The cost: $15 at wellfleetpreservationhall.org; $16 at door; kids 13 and under, $10 online, $11 at door