Chatham County Line isn’t your typical bluegrass band. They are self described as “new traditionalists” in the bluegrass/acoustic music genre. Born out a love for roots music, the band members have quite varied music backgrounds that range from flatpicking to indie rock.
Producer Chris Stamey is back again on this new CD. He describes the band’s relationship to bluegrass this way.
They have always stayed true to their traditional instrumentation, but their albums have never been limited by that in any way. There has always been a progression. They’ve used bluegrass as a jumping off point, a vernacular through which to access all that is roots music, be that gospel, country, rock or pop. That’s American music and they are an American band.
Dave Wilson is the band’s flatpicking guitarist/vocalist. He comments that this new recording is really a mile stone in the band’s maturity.
We started the band as a way to hang out and drink beer. Slowly it turns into a career. This record is about growing up and becoming a band.
Before, we were trying to fit into this one niche because of the instruments we like to play. But now we just look at our instruments as our instruments and it’s all about taking that and evolving into the band we are and want to be.
I share all that information with you as a spoiler of sorts. This is not your average bluegrass CD, and that’s a good thing! Who wants to be average? Certainly not these guys.
The opening track, Chip of A Star, makes it clear that you’re listening to something new. The tune begins with the musical hook, a four note melody line voiced on the banjo, pushing it’s way through a comfortably relaxed rock/pop groove rhythm guitar. The vocals ride along on a bed of background instrumentation including some very tasteful pedal steel work by Greg Readling (bassist in the band).
Chip of A Star gives way to The Carolinian, a tune that proved to be one of my favorites. This is a piece of great songwriting. How can you not like a tune with lyrics like this?
She’s in Richmond with my heart, and I’m bound for Carolina.
You’ve got to watch those East Virginia girls!
By the time the third tune starts, you begin to realize this CD is full of surprises! Let It Rock accomplishes something the band says they were aiming at with this CD.
On many of the tunes the mandolin does the work of the drummer. And I like the idea of the listener being the drummer, whether it be stomping your foot or tapping on the steering wheel.
I honestly had to wait till the song ended to continue writing. I couldn’t stop playing along on the edge of my desk!
Let It Rock isn’t the only rockin’ tune on the disc. There are a couple more excellent toe tapping numbers that will have you drumming along and making a fool of yourself while driving. The last tune on the CD, Thanks put me in mind of something you might hear on a Lenny Kravitz CD.
Lest the reader get the impression this CD is entirely removed from the bluegrass tradition, let me point to track eight, a romping banjo instrumental from the fingers of Chandler Holt. There is also a haunting mandolin number titled Paige written by John Teer, the band’s resident mandolin and fiddle player.
Whipping Boy is an unusual tune lyrically for a bluegrass venue, but musically it is reminiscent of the Johnson Mountain Boys sound, with a melodic hook played in unison by the entire band and interesting rhythmic punches.
Before I finish let me highlight two other tunes that deserve a moment in the spotlight.
One More Minute occupies the fourth position in the track list, and is the CD’s leading (though not solitary) ballad in my opinion. This is one of those heartfelt ballad love songs that makes you really feel the songwriter’s emotion. Built on the firm foundation of a beautiful melody, the instrumentation alternates between rhythmically pulsing and quietly contemplative. One of the more intense ballads I’ve heard in some time.
And finally, what may the breakout song from the CD, Birmingham Jail. This tune is truly unique, embodying both the bluegrass tensions of the band’s previous CDs and the rock edge that permeates IV. This is easily the most intense track on the CD.
No, IV isn’t a traditional bluegrass CD. But it is a CD full of great music that pushes and pulls, exploring musically while still holding fast to tradition at it’s core.
The CD contains 13 songs in total. Take a visit over to the YepRoc website and give it a listen.
And be sure to visit Chatham County Line and check their tour schedule for a show near you. Our international readers should make special note that the band is heading to Europe for a limited number of engagements in late April and early May.
Here’s a little taste of what they’ve got going on. The video for Let It Rock. Don’t worry, their only kidding. Keep watching!