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Country - Released July 13, 2010 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released May 20, 2014 | Yep Roc Records

Bluegrass isn't an especially angsty medium, at least not in its traditional form; the music is usually too speedy and upbeat to communicate an inward gaze into the abyss, and while a blue mood sometimes informs the songs, the sadness invariably sounds organic, rooted in tragic circumstances rather than a dark night of the soul. Chatham County Line are not a traditional bluegrass quartet, even though they often sound like one, and their outlook is what sets them apart as much as their music. This is particularly evident on their sixth studio album, Tightrope, where inward-gazing tunes like "Final Reward" find them stretching the thematic and musical boundaries of the bluegrass genre; while the lyrics deal with the legacy of the Civil War, the narrative is stylized and poetic in a way the average old-time tune is not, and the arrangement, with piano, steel guitar, and brass added to the usual guitars, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, lends the song a potent atmospheric tone that's thoughtful and striking, reinforced by the echoey production. "Final Reward" is the most ambitious track on Tightrope, but even the most conventional numbers sound thoughtful, imaginative, and personal, such as the bittersweet love songs "The Traveler" and "Love I Found" and the affecting portrait of a girl on the dangerous edge of adulthood, "Sixteen Years." The men of Chatham County Line are all gifted instrumentalists, with the chops and the good judgment to make the most of their gifts, and whether they're making their easy way though a crowd-pleaser like "Will You Still Love Me" or exploring more difficult territory on "Ships at Sea," Tightrope shows they're one of America's best acoustic groups, able to learn from the past while striking out on a path that's theirs alone. Between the fine ensemble playing, the excellent songwriting, and the subtle but superb studio technique, Tightrope is a high-water mark for Chatham County Line, which is no small statement given the strength of their work to date. ~ Mark Deming
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Country - Released March 8, 2019 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released July 13, 2010 | Yep Roc Records

Chatham County Line's roots are deep in bluegrass, and that's clearly not about to change, but after ten years together, the group keeps adding different flavors into the formula with each album, and on their fifth, Wildwood, their songwriting and arrangements find them showing how far they can push the boundaries of the genre while still respecting its forms and traditions. The presence of drums on "Saturdays and Sundays" and "Out of the Running" will be enough to outrage many bluegrass purists all by itself, and the piano and pedal steel that pop up throughout the set sure won't make old-timey fans feel at home, either. And while the songwriting often follows the classic high lonesome template, the light but clear Rolling Stones influences on "Ringing in My Ears," the rock & roll stomp of "End of the Line," and the lingering dread of "Blue Jay Way" (not the Beatles tune) are a reminder that this band exists in the 21st century and aren't about to ignore their many influences outside Bill Monroe. But the superb close harmonies, Chandler Holt's banjo, Dave Wilson's guitar, John Teer's mandolin and fiddle, and Greg Readling's doghouse bass still sound as pure and invigorating as a mountain stream, and while they refuse to be restrained by their acoustic quartet format, they also know just how well it can work when the pieces fit right, and the interplay between these players is honest, intuitive, and powerful. And if "Ghost of Woody Guthrie," "Honeymoon," and the title tune sound more like tradtionalist bluegrass, they confirm that CCL can write and play intelligent and deeply personal music within that framework. Not many bands bring together bluegrass' past and present the way Chatham County Line do, and fewer still can do it this well; Wildwood shows they keep getting better as they follow new stylistic detours in their music. ~ Mark Deming
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Country - Released September 2, 2016 | Yep Roc Records

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IV

Country - Released March 4, 2008 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released January 6, 2009 | Yep Roc Records

Whereas the majority of contemporary bluegrass albums are cleaned up and refined to the point of sounding a little sterile, on their self-titled debut, Chatham County Line demonstrate the importance of a warm and organic recording environment and how it leads to a naturally soulful end result. Centered around a single microphone, the band plays acoustic bluegrass instruments in the traditional style, but there's a sly wink in the music -- like in the trunk of their 1946 Nash Rambler there may be some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers records underneath the Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs LPs. Any nods to rock & roll are successfully stifled in their songwriting though, as the band specializes in purely honest and irony-free honky tonk bluegrass, earnestly sung and expertly picked as if "marketing strategies" and "the 18-24 demographic" never existed. In fact, if the sound quality weren't so terrific, it would be easy to convince any of the O Brother, Where Art Thou neophytes that this in fact is a lost recording of Jimmy Martin jamming with the Osborne Brothers backstage at the 1967 Bean Blossom Festival. The tearfully beautiful "WSM (650)" recounts vocalist Dave Wilson's childhood memories of growin' up poor with only the light from the Grand Ole Opry coming through his family's old RCA radio to keep him warm. While the subject could seem trite or even mocking, the band's reverence for the institution of old Nashville and the memories of childhood keep the song faithful to the writer's intentions. Similarly, the epic story-song "Song for John Hartford" is not only a passionate tribute to the fiddle player, but contains enough historical information that it should be taught to third-graders along with story problems and the names of the planets. Other highlights include the mouth-watering "Bacon in the Skillet," the pleading "Sightseeing," guaranteed to get any man out of the doghouse, a reverent cover of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," and damn near every other track on the record. The album falls into the category of "carpet music" because it is wall-to-wall good, covering everything from beginning to end with no marks where the seams meet and no holes in the weave -- just a solid, beautiful collection of terrific songs and equally terrific performances. ~ Zac Johnson

Folk/Americana - Released December 3, 2018 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released February 22, 2005 | Yep Roc Records

Chatham County Line's second trip to the well proves to be just as refreshing as their first. Route 23 travels the same dusty back roads in the same open-top convertible, singing harmony-filled acoustic bluegrass songs that would do Bill Monroe proud. Recorded primarily around one microphone by producer Chris Stamey, the group croons and stomps with an authenticity that belies their young age. The mournful title track serves as an early highlight, with songwriter and vocalist Dave Wilson recalling the feeling of his own father's hardware store (here transposed to a service station) being left behind after the State re-routed the highway away from his place of business. This theme of a lost yesteryear knits its way through the entire album, carried by freight trains, reenacted in gunfights, and preached from the pulpit. Bright banjos and mandolins ring across these tracks, punctuated by the band's now-trademark harmonies and decidedly lo-fi studio techniques, making for a warm journey back through winding roads and Philco radios. ~ Zac Johnson
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Country - Released May 30, 2006 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released July 15, 2016 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released February 4, 2020 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released September 23, 2014 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - To be released May 15, 2020 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released June 16, 2016 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released August 12, 2016 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released February 1, 2019 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released July 10, 2012 | Yep Roc Records

Chatham County Line are not a purist's bluegrass band, but they sure play like one, and the essence of bluegrass is in live performance, with a few folks standing in a semi-circle around a microphone and letting the guitars, fiddles, banjos, and bass come together in front of an audience. So it makes sense that Chatham County Line recorded a few shows in Raleigh, North Carolina and released the results as Sight & Sound; it makes just as much sense that it captures this quartet in excellent form and, as well as any of their albums, this demonstrates what they've learned from classic bluegrass and where they've added something of their own to the style. The shows documented on Sight & Sound were performed in the classic single-mike fashion, and the way these four musicians (Dave Wilson on guitar, John Teer on fiddle and mandolin, Chandler Holt on banjo, and Greg Readling on bass) bob and weave around each other recalls a team of talented dancers who are individually gifted but move together with even greater grace, and these performances sound all the more impressive as the players find the spaces in one another's music. In terms of their songwriting, Chatham County Line take a more modern melodic and lyrical approach to their music than most bluegrass acts, and Sight & Sound is an excellent showcase for their strength as songwriters. "The Carolinian" and "Nowhere to Sleep" draw on bluegrass conventions but with a modernist's lyrical bite, and the brokenhearted boy of "Crop Comes In," the family business gone bust in "Route 23," the civil rights era tragedy of "Birmingham Jail," and the small town guy lost in the Big Apple in "Alone in New York" are stories written with an uncommon clarity that takes no back seat to the superb ensemble playing. And when these guys kick into "Whipping Boy" or "Let It Rock," they boast as much swagger as any bunch of guys with drums and amplifiers. If the test of a good bluegrass band is the ability to deliver on stage, Sight & Sound offers one hour of conclusive proof these men have the goods and them some, and the set list is a reminder that they write as well as they pick; fans will love it, and if you haven't heart CCL work their magic, this is a great place to get acquainted. ~ Mark Deming
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Country - Released January 8, 2019 | Yep Roc Records

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Country - Released February 22, 2019 | Yep Roc Records