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.