Chatham County Line – Speed of the Whippoorwill

Chatham County Line
Speed of the Whippoorwill

After hearing Chatham County Line’s last album, Route 23, I was easily convinced that this group had a potentially long and prosperous career ahead. As a fan of a variety of roots music, I was also impressed that the Raleigh, North Carolina band was doing its best to keep bluegrass alive and current with a heavy dose of the traditional and more than just a little modern flair. There was a lot to love about this quartet, and the members’ praises were sung by tried and true bluegrass fans as much as by hipsters not so sure about “bluegrass” but sure about good music.

Speed of the Whippoorwill finds Chatham County Line further refining the style that garnered so much attention the last time around. Although they choose a different producer for this disc, the artists still maintain a raw, playing-on-the-back-porch feel. Their killer four-part harmonies are ever present, and each musician’s playing has only gotten better through constant touring. This album is a bit slicker and a bit less melancholy throughout – and this seems much more akin to the group’s more upbeat live show.

Main songwriter and guitar player Dave Wilson’s topics of choice on Speed of the Whippoorwill are fairly classic bluegrass fare, such as pining for your woman, backbreaking labor, and traveling. Opening track “Company Blues” focuses on working just to buy some booze at the juke joint, while the narrator of “Rock Pile” is doomed to 30 years hard labor on a chain gang. The title track finds a railroad worker away from home for weeks at a time looking forward to returning to his family.

Wilson’s bandmates contribute original material as well. Banjo player Chandler Holt offers up the endearing “Coming Home” and the peppy instrumental “Savoy Special,” while John Teer (mandolin, fiddle) contributes another instrumental piece, the languid “Brice’s Crossroads,” as well as co-writing the rollicking number “By the Riverside” with Dave Wilson. Each of these guys is a great songwriter as well as an excellent musician, but there is nothing showy or over-the-top about the songs on Speed of the Whippoorwill.

Even if you’ve never considered yourself a fan of bluegrass, Chatham County Line might just be the group that wins you over. The band’s live show has all the energy of the best rock ‘n roll concert, and the albums aren’t lacking for liveliness either. Speed of the Whippoorwill is a fine effort through and through – and this is one album that I do not hesitate to recommend to everyone.