Dusted Reviews

Chatham County Line - Speed of the Whippoorwill

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Chatham County Line

Album: Speed of the Whippoorwill

Label: Yep Roc

Review date: May. 20, 2006

On their third album, Speed of the Whippoorwill, Raleigh's bluegrass rockers Chatham County Line make their intentions clear right out of the gate. Over a driving Jimmy Martin-style guitar-fiddle-banjo-upright bass back-up, lead singer and songwriter Dave Wilson spins a tune that begins by paraphrasing vintage Flatt and Scruggs lyrics with fresh force and immediacy, telling the story of a man with his heart set in desperation on the earthly rewards of sex and liquor when his work-week is done. That tone - combining the raw and driving instrumental attitude of early bluegrass with wide-open emotional honesty in the vocals and accomplished storytelling in the songwriting - inhabits most of this fine record.

Wilson’s vocal style shows traces of both Steve Earle gruffness and Gram Parsons heartbreak. That said, his overall approach is definitely his own - there’s a hint of rock n’ roll abandon in his delivery that adds thrills to these performances. And Wilson’s songwriting, steeped in rural southern imagery and offering clever twists of narrative, can hit real highs. The title song, “Speed of the Whippoorwill,” for example, is an instant classic: With its evocative melody and bittersweet rural yearning tuned to the ancient theme of coming home to rest, it could be 100 years old.

But Chatham County Line is more than just Dave Wilson - it’s a band in the best sense, locking together in thick, tight instrumental back-ups and brooding vocal harmonies to create the train-on-the-tracks or ’49-Ford-on-the-highway rhythms at the heart of its collective musical vision. Each band-member adds tasty elements to the mix: bassist Gregg Readling’s occasional country-church organ or Bakersfield pedal steel; Chandler Holt’s streamlined and churning banjo. Mandolinist and fiddler John Teer provides an album highlight on the instrumental “Brice’s Crossroads,” where his eloquent and eerie minor-key mandolin summons up elegiac and pastoral shades of Bill Monroe’s late-life orchestral masterpiece, “My Last Days On Earth.”

If there’s a weakness to the album, it might be that the decidedly straight-forward production can impart a sense of sameness at times. In this the band walks a fine line: although the aesthetic serves the music well, there are times when the ears might seek some new territory.

But Chatham County Line mostly get it right, taking bluegrass roots in a direction that's all their own. Speed of the Whippoorwill is rich with memorable songs and exciting playing, proving that there’s a place where heart, soul, history and homework can come together in powerful music.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

Read More

View all articles by Kevin Macneil Brown

Find out more about Yep Roc

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.