released July 13th, 2010

from the album - Crop Comes In

from all music

Merging a traditional bluegrass sound and first-class picking with pithy songwriting that often confronts personal issues and political matters head on, Chatham County Line are a North Carolina foursome who first came together in 1999. In the mid-'90s, guitarist Dave Wilson was a member of a country-rock band called Stillhouse, whose sound merged Gram Parsons and Neil Young, when he met Greg Readling, a pedal steel player who could also handle upright bass. Both were interested in the possibility of forming an acoustic country band, and fiddle and mandolin master John Teer and banjo player Chandler Holt were Stillhouse fans interested in making music with a purer sound. The four friends began jamming together in 1999, and within a year they were playing out occasionally as Chatham County Line.

By this time, Stillhouse had broken up and Wilson and Readling were doing double duty with Tift Merritt's backing band, the Carbines. Chatham County Line were occasionally opening shows for Merritt, and at one such gig in 2003 they were seen by producer and Southern pop icon Chris Stamey, who liked their sound and offered to produce their first album; he also helped the band score a deal with the influential North Carolina-based indie label Yep Roc Records. Stamey also produced Chatham County Line's second album, 2005's Route 23, while Brian Paulson stepped in behind the board for 2006's Speed of the Whippoorwill. Meanwhile, Chatham County Line began earning accolades for their inventive take on bluegrass music, having been named the Best New Bluegrass Band at the 2004 RockyGrass Competition in Lyons, CO, while receiving similar honors at the 2006 Indie Music Awards. IV appeared from Yep Roc in 2008, with Stamey taking the production reins once again. Their fifth full-length offering, Wildwood, appeared in 2010.

album review

Chatham County Line's roots are deep in bluegrass, and that's clearly not about to change, but after ten years together, the group keeps adding different flavors into the formula with each album, and on their fifth, Wildwood, their songwriting and arrangements find them showing how far they can push the boundaries of the genre while still respecting its forms and traditions. The presence of drums on "Saturdays and Sundays" and "Out of the Running" will be enough to outrage many bluegrass purists all by itself, and the piano and pedal steel that pop up throughout the set sure won't make old-timey fans feel at home, either. And while the songwriting often follows the classic high lonesome template, the light but clear Rolling Stones influences on "Ringing in My Ears," the rock & roll stomp of "End of the Line," and the lingering dread of "Blue Jay Way" (not the Beatles tune) are a reminder that this band exists in the 21st century and aren't about to ignore their many influences outside Bill Monroe. But the superb close harmonies, Chandler Holt's banjo, Dave Wilson's guitar, John Teer's mandolin and fiddle, and Greg Readling's doghouse bass still sound as pure and invigorating as a mountain stream, and while they refuse to be restrained by their acoustic quartet format, they also know just how well it can work when the pieces fit right, and the interplay between these players is honest, intuitive, and powerful. And if "Ghost of Woody Guthrie," "Honeymoon," and the title tune sound more like tradtionalist bluegrass, they confirm that CCL can write and play intelligent and deeply personal music within that framework. Not many bands bring together bluegrass' past and present the way Chatham County Line do, and fewer still can do it this well; Wildwood shows they keep getting better as they follow new stylistic detours in their music.

Track Listing

1 Wildwood 3:08
2 Alone in New York 4:28
3 Saturdays & Sundays 3:48
4 Crop Comes In 4:23
5 Porcelain Doll 3:07
6 Out of the Running 3:20
7 Heart Attack 3:54
8 Ghost of Woody Guthrie 3:19
9 Honeymoon 3:38
10 Ringing in My Ears 4:13
11 Blue Jay Way 4:24
12 End of the Line 4:06