Chatham County Line
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Having maintained a stable lineup for four albums and countless road miles, Chatham County Line has with similar consistently explored the limits of their brand of bluegrass. One expects the band to challenge the conventions while embracing sounds and influences that may not be immediately identified with 1950s bluegrass.
In many ways, Chatham County Line is the contemporary apparition of The Byrds, minus the frequent personnel overhauls and hit singles, of course. Like The Byrds, CCL has an immediately identifiable sound and approach to music making while having never stood in any one place for too long.
On their fifth Yep Roc release the band continues to progress while maintaining that which has garnered them attention and, in some circles, acclaim.
The appeal is multifaceted, beginning with the vocals of Dave Wilson. With a dreamy drawl that first brings The Byrds comparison to mind, Wilson’s approach to a song is never hurried or frantic. Instead, he calmly communicates hope, aspiration, and anguish in equal measure, all the while leaving room for some of the most impressive and seductive harmonies within the ‘new’ crop of bluegrass performers.
As dramatic as Wilson’s voice and his bandmates harmonies continue to be, the CCL would not be the force it is without the instrumental chops of the entire unit. Chandler Holt’s banjo contributions of always appreciated; he has the knack for finding just the right space to drop in a gentle roll or fill. John Teer’s mandolin is used in a similar manner, further defining the quartet’s sound, while Greg Readling’s bass work provides an unobtrusive presence.
Much has been made of the inclusion of Zeke Hutchins’ drums to the mix of Wildwood. Having listened to the album countless times over the past two months, I propose that anyone who finds the inclusion of percussion offensive is working hard to find fault; so subtle is the sound that one would be hard-pressed, I believe, to identify which tracks feature drumming.
To ensure that time hasn’t warped my vision, I re-listened to CCL’s 2003 debut album, as well as select tracks from their other impressive releases. Has the sound changed? Certainly. Is it as strong and appealing as ever? Definitely.
Chatham County Line may not get the airplay of The Infamous Stringdusters or Cadillac Sky or the critical accolades of The SteelDrivers, but they remain one of the brightest forces within the next bluegrass generation.
Wildwood confirms the promise of their previous releases.