Ahead of their new album, Tightrope, which is out now on Yep Roc, North Carolinians Chatham County Line have put together a very special collection of songs hand-picked by the band from throughout their twenty-odd year career. The time has seen them release six studio albums, seemlessly blending their take on the traditions which they are part of and their strong sense of southern musical heritage.
The CCL sound is strong and distinctive, made up of Dave Wilson (guitar), John Teer (mandolin, fiddle), Chandler Hold (banjo), and Greg Readling (bass), with the different parts fitting together like the cogs of a trusted machine. The way the instruments ‘drop in’ together on opener The Traveler is something to behold, with the song acting as a memory of the experiences of travelling and realising that there is nothing in the world like lost love. Wilson’s is more than just another guitarist-lead singer, with real range and depth to accompany the sliding guitar and popping, rolling banjo.
The CCL sound rolls and ranges, adding blues harp to Out Of The Running. Here, the addition of steel guitar sends the song into slightly Simon & Garfunkel territory, all longing and bittersweet, blending country and bluegrass together in a natural fit.
I really did experience a sensation of shock, wonder when I heard The Carolinian – shock and wonder as to how good it is, and how real the story and the emotion feels. The song takes you right into that place, onto that train, into the mind of the character, as he ‘began to wish my life away…’. It’s helped by a perfect bluegrass backing – the way Hold’s banjo drops in unites the classic and the modern in the genre, as we reflect on life’s chances and opportunities, wondering how it would be if things had been different.
By The Riverside is a more relaxed, lazy ode to kicking back, letting go of responsibilities, and doing what you want, whilst we return to train stories with the stately Louisiana Freight Train. The story may be one of regret, but the harmonies and instrumentation shows the completeness of a band in total control of their work.
Chip Of A Star is just great, epic music, rolling along as a mirror to life. Conjuring summery highways and meadows and relaxing evenings with incredible, real music, the banjo roll and chopping rhythm is risen above by the soaring voices. A loving, reverential tribute to a ‘beautiful friend’, it is yet more evidence that the band offer bluegrass and more – and that’s the way CCL does things others don’t
Wildwood has a more classic sound, which introduces other sounds in the form of a piano line around a constant fiddle and banjo presence, and closer Let It Rock, as the title suggests, hangs loose with a live, rock approach. This fun, tongue-in-cheek outro evokes the Byrds or the Eagles, just with bluegrass instrumentation.
Rendezvous is a treat, for fans old and new, showing off the style and versatility which have made Chatham County Line enduring favourites throughout their career. It contains some wonderful songs, played and sung quite brilliantly. Make sure you check it out, and also pick up their new album, which is available now.