Chatham County Line: Tightrope

Ultimately, Chatham County Line's Tightrope falls short of the band's expectations, but exerts its own charms.

Chatham County Line


Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2014-05-20
UK Release Date: 2014-05-26

In business terms, Chatham County Line would be considered a loss leader. Lacking the punk credentials and crossover appeal of fellow bluegrass revivalists Old Crow Medicine Show, the Raleigh, North Carolina act has held true to its roots, writing its own songs steeped in American lore. With acts like Mumford & Sons and offshoots such as the Lumineers charting off of variations of the sound Chatham County Line helped to rekindle, the foursome have yet to reap their just rewards. To their credit, the quartet continues to issue their own dynamic music.

Their latest, Tightrope, is the culmination of the band identifying its strengths and legacy following the 2012 release of Sight & Sound, their recorded-live, career-overview album and film. Striving for every song "to be on the future greatest hits album," the songs on Tightrope were woodshedded over a number of months in various studios, a high school auditorium, and vocalist/guitarist Dave Wilson's basement. Organic development of the arrangements were finalized during these informal sessions, allowing song and melody fragments to coalesce before the band settled in to record at Sound Pure Studios.

The band's understanding and knowledge of the finished songs are evident on Tightrope. The loose playing on "Tightrope of Love" and the seemingly false start to "Should Have Known Better" exhibit a practiced yet unpolished approach for a band devout on propagating traditional stringband instrumentation. Filled with loss and love, the highlights of Tightrope are the album's more poignant moments. A war motif dots the album, from the detailing of the generations-removed "Hawk" to the piano-driven Civil War requiem, "Final Reward", which closes the album, speaking directly to the band's Southern upbringing and its given geographic history: "This country was built on arrogance / And the blood of the fallen men / When brother shot brother those years ago."

Amid the band's trademark harmonies, familiar melodies are laced throughout Tightrope, but ones not associated with Chatham County Line. The verses of "Sixteen Years" recall Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire", down to the sexual tension in lines like "She came easy like a doe in heat / Squirming like a viper in her vinyl seat." "Any Port in a Storm" draws its melody and vocal phrasing from U2's "Trip Through Your Wires", albeit at a slower rate.

Ultimately, Tightrope falls short of the band's expectations but exerts its own charms, adding to Chatham County Line's canon. Since the band waited four years between new releases, the tide has turned in favor of the upstarts. The belabored nature of Tightrope speaks to Wilson's comment that "the next generation is coming." Struggling with the purity of its chosen narrow genre against the potential commercial appeal it helped bring about, Tightrope fails to reach the heights of 2010's Wildwood, delivered in a time before their progeny took hold.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I Went on a Jewel Bender in Quarantine. This Is My Report.

It's 2020 and everything sucks right now, so let's all fucking chill and listen to Jewel.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.