Fresh from Europe, Chatham County Line takes on a new perspective on fifth album

by Ryan Snyder

It’s gone largely unnoticed in the United States, but there’s been an American invasion of sorts going on in Europe for the past decade. There are no tanks and foot soldiers on this front, however, as this invasion is spearheaded by mandolins, banjos and four-part harmonies; an Americana Invasion, if you will.

There aren’t many people more familiar with the European appetite for old-time American folk and country than Chatham County Line songwriter and guitarist Dave Wilson, as the band recently completed their umpteenth trip through the Old World. Chatham County Line has sold out their gigs in London and recorded importonly discs with Norwegian guitar legend Jonas Fjeld, with each European trip drawing consecutively larger audiences. The irony behind cultures steeped in rich artistic history rabidly consuming the folk music another country isn’t lost on Wilson, though he has a simple explanation for it: The audiences there simply take a different approach to music. The typical club crowd is more educated, affluent and accommodating when it comes to foreign acts.

“They don’t have the kind of rich musical history that we take for granted because they don’t have the musical diversity that America had from the ’20s through the ’60s,” Wilson said. “They take our music as their own and there’s stuff that’s just as popular as or more so than it is over here.”

There’s also a logistical aspect to touring the densely-packed European metropoleis that allows them to sustain a tour far more easily than driving from, say, Portland to San Francisco. There are still other ancillary attractions to Europe. Sometimes, he adds, it’s simply a matter of the crowds observing performance decorum.

“People are always talking to each other, I mean, I do it to,” said Wilson. “They’re also not going to yell out ‘Rocky Top’ because they understand you’re beyond that.”

In the midst of their most recent gallivant through a multitude of foreign countries, the slickly refined, Raleighbased quartet have found time to conceive their fifth studio album, a project that with which they hope to break new ground from within. They’ve always used bluegrass and old-time folk as a jumping off point for lighter exploration into country and that won’t change with the next release, but they are toying with the idea of taking on greater responsibility in its creation. Chris Stamey, legendary Winston-Salem pop figurehead-turnediconic producer, left his production imprint on three of the band’s four albums, but Wilson says that the band is toying with the idea of taking on those responsibilities themselves.

“We’ve learned a lot from working with Chris over the last few records and just wanted to give it a shot ourselves,” said Wilson. “We’ve been working out of friends’ basements and living rooms, but we’re not actually recording tracks that will be on the record yet unless we get really lucky.”

While overseas during the initial tours, Chatham County Line took the opportunity to record with Fjeld, a noted musician who’s performed alongside the likes of the Band’s former bassist Rick Danko in the past. The result was the acclaimed 2005 release Brother of Song. It seemed like a natural partnership, as Fjeld was fond of using the same single-mic arrangement that has come to embody the singular energy that Chatham County Line’s emits. For the next release, however, Wilson says he’s looking locally for inspiration. He listens to collegiate Raleigh station WKNC religiously, he says, and a show entitled Local Lunch in particular that features upand-coming local acts. He’s absorbing the vintage pop-inspired sounds of bands like Bombadil, Hammer No More the Fingers and Max Indian as he diligently looks to capture that same kind of spirit on the band’s next record.

“All these bands are taking their cues from stuff that the Beatles did when they spent hours and hours in the studio, which is one of the advantages of home recording,” said Wilson. “I think it will have a vintage pop feel. It’s definitely going to have a different sound than anything we’ve ever done.”

Chatham County Line will perform at the Cat’s Cradle on Saturday, Nov. 7.