Chatham County Line plays bluegrass for people who don’t like bluegrass.
Well, not just them. Some folks who like bluegrass also enjoy the music of the long-serving Raleigh group, but their interpretation of the music isn’t for everyone. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the Fervor Coulee archives is the line, “playing rock ‘n’ roll on bluegrass instruments.” Unfortunately, I can’t locate it.
Chatham County Line’s first three or five albums were quite exciting—their debut knocked me on my arse, the follow-up one of my consistent go-to’s, and 2010’s Wildwood continues to be held in similar high-esteem. The last couple albums didn’t maintain my attention to the same degree. Their latest is a set of thirteen covers, many studio interpretations of songs that have been dropped into set lists over the group’s two-decades of live performances.
Wilco and Beck covers pale in comparison to the execution of old country tunes included. The Louvin Brothers’ standard “My Baby’s Gone” features clean two-part vocal harmony from John Teer (mandolin, fiddle) and Dave Wilson (guitar.)
Less impacting but enjoyable, the band runs through “Think of What You’ve Done” and the rather-dated “Girl on the Billboard,” and Wilson’s voice is always going to be enjoyed. James Hunter’s “People Gonna Talk” is a soulful number ideally suited to acoustiblue rendering. The best vocal work may well be found in John Hartford and Tut Taylor’s Aereo-Plain classic “Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry;” the phrasing is a bit different
from the original but the song’s sincerity is maintained and may remind listeners of the appeal of their debut album’s “Song for John Hartford.”
Two highlights are classic rock radio staples. “Watching the Wheels” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels” are freshened in these arrangements, with Chandler Holt’s 5-string contributions framing the intense, personal songs from John Lennon and Tom Petty. I’ve likely heard enough acoustic interpretations of Rolling Stones songs; “The Last Time” is indistinctive.
Sharing the Covers is likely inessential, but contains fine performances of mostly familiar songs. For a band who doesn’t “listen to a bunch of bluegrass in the van when [they’re] driving around the country,” Chatham County Line presents as a group who has learned their art the honest way—by playing live. That vibrancy is communicated through (most of) these performances.
(Reviewed based on provided download.)
From the archives:
Chatham County LineChatham County LineBonfire Records
Original bluegrass has seldom sounded as fresh as on the debut album from these youthful musicians. With nods to the forebears of the music they love (“WSM 650,” “Song for John Hartford”) as well as the traditions of bluegrass music- murder ballads that go beyond the bare facts, train wrecks, misused authority- Chatham County Line have produced a tremendous album that should appeal to both bluegrass purists and those closer to the fringes. The musicianship is exemplary and the vocals are warm, lonesome, and mountain authentic. (Originally published, Red Deer Advocate, 2003)
Chatham County LineRoute 23Yep Roc
The sophomore effort from this North Carolina quartet finds the band pushing the boundaries of their The Band-influenced version of lyrics-driven bluegrass. While the narratives written by Dave Wilson are fleshed out versions of tales explored by the first generation of bluegrass storytellers such as Bill Monroe and Carter Stanley, the tone of the music more closely follows the roads explored by John Hartford and Peter Rowan. The instrumentation and melody are not throwbacks to yesteryear, but are vibrant, modern renderings of timeless sounds. Unlike some current, hip practitioners of bluegrass-influenced new, acoustic music, Chatam County Line can pick and harmonize like nobody’s business. CCL may not be everyone’s bluegrass, but they produce music perfectly suited for folk festivals, county fairs, and summer drives. (Originally published, Red Deer Advocate, 2005)