taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of local & state music CDs


Never a group to easily define, Raleigh’s Chatham County Line have completed the slow, subtle shift from a lyrically focused, non-traditional bluegrass outfit to a hybrid that more closely resembles indie folk with Americana accents with their fifth studio record Wildwood. While Wildwood doesn’t overflow with the same kind of energy that their 2007 release IV did, for the most part it’s still a quietly effective album that showcases Dave Wilson’s absorbing songwriting abilities while allowing the band to explore new instrumental territory. One of its major challenges, however, was to perform up to the bar set by IV, which it falls just short of doing, but has its moments. Amidst Wilson’s rustic voice, the pensive underlying piano melody and the meandering banjo veneer, the meditation on the emptiness of city life “Alone In New York” feels haphazard at times, but also like a band really trying to move beyond clich’d country conventions. The compact and uncomplicated “Saturdays & Sundays” relies on its chirpy hook to elicit the warmth that Chatham County Line has been so good at creating in the past, but they aren’t quite as successful in that regard with the Jayhawks-y “Crop Comes In.” There are times when the often overwhelming melancholy leaves you longing for the intensity of “Birmingham Jail,” namely the ultimately unexceptional “Porcelain Doll” and “Blue Jay Way.”

Chatham County Line can still get down to the nuts and bolts of writing a good-time country rocker though, and they show it on the driving “Heart Attack,” which uses big harmonies and genuine inflection to prop up its simple twoword chorus. The creative drum work of guest Zeke Hutchins is at its best on “Ringing In My Ears,” which Wilson seems to have more than a bit of fun building an entire song out of referencing classic lyrics from George Jones, Willie Nelson, George Harrison and Hank Williams. The album ends on a strong note with the infectious “End of the Line” that conveys the strength of the band’s live show like no other track on the album does, and sounds built to be one to close out CCL shows for years to come.


Chatham County Line will return to North Carolina to perform at the Fletcher Opera House in Raliegh on Friday, Aug. 20.