CHATHAM COUNTY LINE, Wildwood, Yep Roc Records YEP-2221, 12 songs, 45’47’’ (2010)
Friday September 17th CHATHAM COUNTY LINE will perform at De Roma in Borgerhout (near Antwerp, Belgium) It’s the only Belgian concert in a small Eurotour that brings the quartet to the UK, Ireland and twice in Holland. This is probably the third time the bluegrass and neo hillbilly formation from Raleigh, North Carolina, appears in our country. They were a highlight on Feeërieën in the Warandepark in the center of Brussel August 25th 2009, for many the first meeting up with this phenomenon of roots Americana. But the Belgian premiere already dates from March 3rd 2007. On that day they performed at De Villa of the N9 Club in Eeklo (not so far from Bruges), in the way they are used to: the four musicians gathered round one microphone with painted on the mike standard ‘CHATHAM CO. LINE’, vintage style. It was an unforgettable gig, pure and intense, with a constant creative edge, mostly powerful, sometimes endearing, from time to time overwhelming, thanks to a.o. the immense dexterity in playing and the awesome vocal harmonies. It was in roughly the same period that N9 had the CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS, trio also stemming from the obviously fertile grounds of North Carolina.
These gave an also brilliant concert in the same small venue. Since their second CD, the succesful ‘Hit ‘Em Up Style’ (see YouTube) and the concert at the major Dranouter festival a few days ago, the black string band (jug band) CCD has become a familiar name over here. They are in fact to be seen and heard in Belgium again later this year (in the AB-Brussels November 11th and in café De Zwerver at Leffinge (Ostend) November 12th: see concert calendars) For now, Chatham County Line lacks a hit song like ‘Hit ‘Em Up Style’, although the new and fifth CD ‘Wildwood’ is crammed with magnificent tunes, that will not only bring pleasure to those fans of the ‘big ones’ bluegrass, the admirers of Bill Monroe (who virtually created the style after WWII out of, precisely, the string band tradition) and his bystanders in the Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt (guitar, singing) and Earl Scruggs (banjo), furthermore Doc Watson and nowadays Allison Krauss. CCL knows how to build bridges to and between the lovers of other kinds of roots Americana without betraying the essence of bluegrass.
There are also differences with the past, though. Topproducer Chris Stamey didn’t help out this time, like he did on ‘Route 23’, second CD of the band, that gave the band a first breakthrough, and the one before this one, ‘IV’ (see our review of this CD, here at http://www.folkroddels.be) Dave Wilson (singing, guitar, harp) took care of production. Another difference is the presence of a guest drummer and percussionist, Zeke Hutchins. Up to now CCL had avoided including drums, as for the most part the mandolin took on the rhythmical task. But this evolution was to be expected in the long run. However, percussion is never obtrusive and always remarkably to the point.
But for all other matters, the old saying ‘Never change a winning team’ prevailed: Dave Wilson again wrote all songs and he’s still surrounded vocally and instrumentally by John Teer (mandolin, fiddle, viola), Chandler Holt (banjo) and Greg Readling (bass, pedal steel, piano), all great and tightly performing musicians. Everyone will find his or hers pet song in this collection, but we especially enjoy ‘Alone In New York’ and ‘Porcelain Doll’. The first is a somewhat melancholic song driven by a particularly playful banjo, the latter gets a short but moving string ending, no doubt the input of John Teer. The title tune that opens the CD sounds like the legendary Louvin Brothers. ‘Heart Attack’ shows the band in its most fiery livery. ‘Ghost Of Woody Guthrie’ is worthy of the grandmaster of American folk and protest song. But we haven’t had the chance to get bored with the rest either. Anyway, this selection must be a stunner when executed live, as we hope and expect for September 17th.
In the best Yep Roc tradition you get a bonus when purchasing the CD: you acquire this bonus by surfing to the site of the label and entering your code. You get six songs, two from each of the three forerunners of ‘Wildwood’ like the wonderful ‘Chip Of A Star’ from ‘IV’. Who already has the CD’s, doesn’t benefit, but for those possessing none, it’s a good starting point.
(Flemish/Dutch original on www.folkroddels.be August 19th/20th 2010; this translation August 21st)