Chatham County Line – Route 23

The quartet from Raleigh, North Carolina known as Chatham County Line is about as refreshing as a modern traditional group can be. Its 2003 debut garnered quite a bit of attention, and the band even won the “Best New Bluegrass Band” award at RockyGrass in Colorado. The sophomore release, Route 23 shows no signs of anything but continued success for this amazing group.

Chatham County Line has the customary lineup – guitar (songwriter Dave Wilson, who also plays harmonica), fiddle (John Teer, who also plays mandolin), banjo (Chandler Holt), and bass (Greg Readling, who also plays pedal steel). The quartet plays predominantly original songs that maintain reverence for the genres roots without sounding too old-timey or stale. In other words, you get some straight-up bluegrass complete with lighting-fast flatpicking that is current and invigorating.

The band offers a selection of upbeat numbers and ballads as well as a few instrumentals on Route 23. The disc begins with “Nowhere to Sleep,” which tells the story of a homeless rambler’s lost love. Immediately, the quartet’s musical expertise is evident, and the vocals are superb. All four men sing, creating a wonderful four-part harmony with their solid voices, which they use to their advantage by recording together live.

The album’s title track tells the semi-autobiographical tale of Wilson’s father’s business failing after a superhighway diverted traffic away, and the tune will make you lament the loss of mom & pop establishments. Chatham County Line slows down to a more languid pace for songs like “Louisiana Freight Train” and “Parlour Light,” both of which are sincere and perfect for singing along. Sincerity is one of the central qualities of this group – the music is about as honest as it could be. The two instrumentals, “Gunfight in Durango” and “Sun Up,” show off the quartet’s technical abilities, but it is songs like “Rumination” and “Engine No. 709” that truly prove just how good Chatham County Line is. Although some of the situations depicted in the songs may not have directly happened to one of the members of the band, you know the inspiration for the songs is the result of the members’ combined experience and memory.

Chatham County Line is a tried-and-true bluegrass band, which may send those not familiar with the genre running for the hills. But this group is modern enough that it should appeal to the uninitiated as much as existing fans of Americana. Route 23 is an outstanding album in every sense, so you really can’t go wrong with this one unless you aren’t open to bluegrass at all. Plus, it’s always thrilling to hear younger musicians keeping roots music live and relevant.