Wednesday, April 27, 2005

CD Review: Chatham County Line - Route 23

route 23

It’s long been a tradition for rock and roll musicians to end up playing country music. Conway Twitty and George Jones went that route and then there’s this great line from Ryan Adams’s song Faithless Street, “…I started this damn country band, cause punk rock was too hard to sing.” Chatham County Line bring some experience from rock and roll to playing traditional style bluegrass, but unless you’ve read their biography you would probably think they’ve been playing this music from the day they were born.

Dave Wilson plays guitar, harmonica, and sings. He also writes most of the songs. John Teer plays a mean mandolin, fiddle, and sings. Chandler Holt is on banjo and vocals. Greg Reading plays bass, pedal steel, and also contributes vocals. They also often back up Tift Merritt as The Carbines. Chris Stamey of Sneakers and db’s fame saw them opening for Tift one night as Chatham County Line and they were soon in the studio with him producing their debut album released in 2003. It was an enjoyable disc even when it seemed like it was reaching for subject matter. “Tennessee Valley Authority” was one of the most egregious offenders with its simplistic gloss over of a very contentious time in the Tennessee Valley. Thankfully on the new album, Route 23, Wilson’s lyric writing has improved and become more personal.

The title track is a great example of this telling the tale of a gas station forced to close after it is bypassed by a new highway. His father ran a hardware store in Charlotte, North Carolina that was forced to close for the same thing. “The only thing that changed were the seasons and the shapes of the hoods” captures the timeless nature of the South before the four land highways transformed the landscape. “Nowhere To Sleep” shows Wilson’s voice maturing gaining more of that quintessential bluegrass soul sound. The band keeps up sounding this good, they won’t have a problem “trying to raise their rent.” Another deft lyrical turn is “you’re in the arms of another and I’m in the arms of the law” from “Arms Of The Law” which would make a fine country song. Some other high points include “Sun Up” which features some fancy banjo picking and the slow spiritual number, “Take Heed”.

Chatham County Line won Best New Bluegrass Band at Rockygrass 2004 with good reason. They are refreshing with their traditionalism, yet not archaic. They will be touring almost non-stop this year so pick up their albums, and then go see them play. It’s only right that some former rockers are playing bluegrass. I’ve always considered the genre to be country’s version of speed metal. Route 23 is out on the great Yeproc label.


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