Chatham County Line Biography
For their fourth album IV, the band is back with producer and Chapel Hill indie legend Chris Stamey after a one-album hiatus. One fourth of the jangle-pop defining dB's, Chris has worked with rock, pop and roots artists as varied as Yo La Tengo, Alex Chilton and Alejandro Escovedo. It was his diverse musical sensibilities that brought the band back to Chris and the church turned studio, Echo Mountain in Asheville, NC.
"We always love working with Chris," says Chandler Holt. "His dedication and attention to detail are second to none and he just made sense for the type of album we wanted to make. This record is a little more pop in feel and everyone knows Chris can make a beautiful pop record with his hands tied behind his back." The Whiskeytown producing alumn knew from the first time he saw the band that this was more than a tribute to traditionalism, he knew the band was moving toward something more. "They have always stayed true to their traditional instrumentation," says Stamey, "but their albums have never been limited by that in any way. There has always been a progression. They've used bluegrass as a jumping off point, a vernacular through which to access all that is roots music, be that gospel, country, rock or pop. That's American music and they are an American band."
Chatham County Line was spawned at Raleigh, NC's infamous Blue House on the corner of Hillsborough and Boylan, when Dave met high-school friends Chandler Holt and John Teer. A long-standing crash pad for Raleigh bands like Corrosion of Conformity, the house had been the scene of sunrise jam sessions for years. The kind of place where a joint was always being passed and there was always a beer to be found in the back corner of the filthy fridge. The sort of house where it wasn't clear who actually lived there and who was just hanging out fighting off a hangover, or working on the next one. Touring bands from Athens to D.C. knew about the house and its open door policy, exercising the standing invitation when the previous night's draw wasn't quite up to snuff down the street at The Brewery, or over in Chapel Hill at The Local 506. The ancient wooden floors showed the scuffs and scars of a decade of house parties and loose, drunken jam sessions. But that year, the soft pine planks would take the brunt of an especially enthusiastic flatpicker's stomp. That picker's name? Dave Wilson.
Four albums later, IV marks a watermark in Chatham County Line's creative arc. "On this album I wrote a lot of the songs in a very different way from how I have written on other records," offers Dave in reference to a loose jam session-style process. Wilson's basement served as a rehearsal space for him and Tift Merritt band members Zeke Hutchins and Jay Brown to experiment between CCL tours. "They're not in CCL but they're good friends and helped me develop some of my ideas for this album. I would play something and Zeke and Jay would give it a groove." A unique approach when writing songs for a band with no drummer like CCL. "On many of the tunes the mandolin does the work of the drummer. And I like the idea of the listener being the drummer, whether it be stomping your foot or tapping on the steering wheel." It's clear that morphing rhythm-based songs for the instruments in CCL is responsible for much of the album's unique mood.
Songs like the slurring Stonesy romp "Let It Rock" and the speedy blues "I Got Worry" give IV, a relaxed boozy vibe not evident on CCL's more tightly strung previous albums. Here the tension lies solely with the searing intensity of "Birmingham Jail." John Teer's usually pitch-perfect high harmonies are broken into shards in the form of a blood curdling scream. The pop structures of "Chip of a Star" mark perhaps the band's greatest leap to date with their first "hook-based" tune and the addition of bouncy pedal steel from bassist Greg Readling.
While rockers do abound on IV, it's really the album's ballads that act as showpieces. The flat-out gorgeous "One More Minute" features harmonies from Whiskeytowner Caitlin Cary. "Sweet Eviction" tells a tale of bitterness amidst a landscape of crawling, veiled gospel.
Its differences and new feel aside, IV certainly doesn't divorce itself from what fans have come to know and love as Chatham County Line. "The Carolinian" a tight, traditional bluegrass workout might at first glance seem out of place. But Wilson doesn't see it that way at all, "I just took the best songs and put them on the album. That's it. End of story."
Fade to black.