CHATHAM COUNTY LINE / IV / Yep Roc Records YEP-2157.
In 2005 Chatham County Line (Chatham Co. Line or CCL) from North Carolina surprised us all with Route 23, a helluva new traditional CD, with a marked bluegrass stamp, produced by veteran Chris Stamey (member of the dB’s, worked with Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown, Yo La Tengo, Alex Chilton, Alejandro Escovedo…And that’s only a pick) There’s many fine music to hear between Nowhere To Sleep and Born To Be With You, that’s best known in the version of Dave Edmunds.
There was a predecessor, simply called Chatham County Line and the successor was quick to come, the equally convincing Speed Of The Whippoorwill (2006), with world class songs like the title track or Waiting Paradise. On stage the quartet excelled to the same extent. One could read that from Live On Film, released in 2006 but with recordings dating from 2005. This DVD was still focussed on the material of Route 23. In 2007 they finally made their very first concert on Belgian soil, when England, Ireland, Holland and even…Norway had already tuned in on the phenomenon.
Although this first and still only Belgian appearance in the N9 (Eeklo) didn’t attract the masses, it conquered a cherished place in the hearts and minds of those present. In good old fashioned way, the four musicians were standing all around a single old style microphone, with the name of the band on the mike standard. They were doing their thing on banjo (Chandler Holt), fiddle or mandolin (John Teer), acoustic guitar (Dave Wilson, who sings lead most of the time) and upright bass (Greg Readling) On top of that the voices of all were singing wondrous melody lines in close harmony. Although this concert came two years after the shooting of Live On Film and the repertoire had since then widened and vocal work had evolved, the DVD might still be called representative for their work. But it was clear they were not willing to linger in one style, not even bluegrass.
This year IV was released confirming all the good that was written about them in recent times. The album will not only please the small legion of fans in our country, but is an excellent first contact with the band from centraal North Carolina (recently we’ve had more interesting from there…Think of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a young black jug band) IV is a varied CD with memorable songs in various styles ranging alt.country to folk, almost all written by Dave Wilson. Recordings were made by Chris Stamey, for the first time again since Route 23. The sound is trueky outstanding.
CCL is in great shape on IV. You only have to listen to the compelling opener Chip Of A Star, with the madolin as backbone of the song. The following Carolinian is one of the best songs in any style one can possible hear this year. We read somewhere (see www.roenhetzwoen.skynetblogs.be ): ,,The song The Jayhawks forgot to write’’. One More Minute is a yearning ballad, the kind we haven’t heard yet in 2008 (except maybe for Sweet Eviction and She, that you’ll find…further up the CD) In the following Birmingham Jail it’s all bloody serious again, like in a Dylan classic tune.
And so it goes on. Up or mid tempo songs like I Got Worry, Clear Blue Sky or Whipping Boy splash out of the speakers. And all this without drummer. Wilson says that the mandoline takes over the role of the percussionist. He’s fond of the idea that the listener plays the drummer. There is room for a musical joke like Paige, sounding like a courtly piece of ,,baroque meets barn dance’’ for virtuoso mandolin solo. Thanks is a fitting coda. IV gets the quartet out of the stable of the one trick ponies and puts them firmly in the ranks of the top all round Americana bands, just like Allison Krauss & Union Station (and outside blue grass Wilco) It’s time Chatham County Line becomes a household name, even in our concert halls. Please go and see them before you have to go to the bigger venues!
Antoine Légat (Dutch original June 7th 2008 published at interactive site www.folkroddels.be ; this translation as faithful as possible July 24th 2008)