As a recent transplant from Raleigh, North Carolina to the Big Apple area, it was quite arresting and a bit serendipitous to hear Chatham County Line kick off the CD portion of their new live release, Sight & Sound with “Alone in New York”. As lead singer Dave Wilson progressed through his woebegone tale of an out-of-towner searching New York City far and wide for meaningful relations, I couldn’t help but wistfully look back on my homeland with a certain fond reverence. Although my time up here has been productive, exciting, and refreshing, there are those reverse feelings of alienation and detachment one can amazingly sense in a city of eight million people. While swimming in a sea of humanity, you’re often alone with your thoughts, wondering about the turn of events that make up a life. The fact that these reflections are usually associated with isolated scenarios like quiet country drives or peaceful mountain settings makes their appearance in crowded subway cars and mass pedestrian crossings all the more surprising. I’m learning the ways of city life and it’s good to have one of my hometown bands along with me for the journey.
Partially recorded in Raleigh’s intimate and pristine Fletcher Auditorium on a sweltering summer evening two Augusts ago, Sight & Sound showcases Chatham County Line doing what they do: playing top shelf bluegrass music with hints of a folk-rock edge. With both a 16-track CD audio set and an accompanying DVD document, there are countless opportunities to experience the range and dynamic of the band. The aforementioned Wilson’s vocals are augmented nicely by John Teer’s mandolin and fiddle, Chandler Holt’s banjo, and Greg Readling’s upright bass. In the spirit of old WSM Radio Opry broadcasts, the four musicians huddle around a single microphone, taking turns stepping up for instrumental solos and nodding heads in and out of the circle for backing vocals. They’re a dynamic group, capable of humorously bantering with the audience between numbers or explaining lyrical references with the charm and grace of veteran stars. As the band’s stature has risen considerably over the past few years, their national profile has accordingly followed. However, the regional setting for this set really demonstrates the love and devotion they bring out in their truest fans.
With five albums released over the past decade of their existence, there is a plethora of material from which to draw. Longtime fans will rejoice over the selection of tracks like the nostalgic tale of “Route 23” and the plaintive “Speed of the Whippoorwill”. Folks that have joined the party later will appreciate recent gems like “Crop Comes In” and “Wildwood”. There’s really no room to quibble over the song selection as the choices offer the perfect mix for both seasoned fans and novices. Wilson himself sums it up best: “A lot of people think we sound better live and in-person than we do on record. They’ll say, ‘We wish your records sounded like you do live!’ And there was a thought of this kind of being a loose ‘Greatest Hits,’ if you will, so it has songs from each record gathered all in one place.”
With a glowing catalog of material and true devotion to the road, Chatham County Line show no signs of slowing down. Sight and Sound is an impressive record of what they have accomplished and an exciting promise of what they will still be able to fulfill. They’ve given the music world much to appreciate and look forward to.
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