Chatham County Line

Wildwood

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Chatham County Line's roots are deep in bluegrass, and that's clearly not about to change, but after ten years together, the group keeps adding different flavors into the formula with each album, and on their fifth, Wildwood, their songwriting and arrangements find them showing how far they can push the boundaries of the genre while still respecting its forms and traditions. The presence of drums on "Saturdays and Sundays" and "Out of the Running" will be enough to outrage many bluegrass purists all by itself, and the piano and pedal steel that pop up throughout the set sure won't make old-timey fans feel at home, either. And while the songwriting often follows the classic high lonesome template, the light but clear Rolling Stones influences on "Ringing in My Ears," the rock & roll stomp of "End of the Line," and the lingering dread of "Blue Jay Way" (not the Beatles tune) are a reminder that this band exists in the 21st century and aren't about to ignore their many influences outside Bill Monroe. But the superb close harmonies, Chandler Holt's banjo, Dave Wilson's guitar, John Teer's mandolin and fiddle, and Greg Readling's doghouse bass still sound as pure and invigorating as a mountain stream, and while they refuse to be restrained by their acoustic quartet format, they also know just how well it can work when the pieces fit right, and the interplay between these players is honest, intuitive, and powerful. And if "Ghost of Woody Guthrie," "Honeymoon," and the title tune sound more like tradtionalist bluegrass, they confirm that CCL can write and play intelligent and deeply personal music within that framework. Not many bands bring together bluegrass' past and present the way Chatham County Line do, and fewer still can do it this well; Wildwood shows they keep getting better as they follow new stylistic detours in their music.

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