More tradition-minded than progressive offerings like The Duhks or Nickel Creek’s Why Should The Fire Die?, the third album from Raleigh natives Chatham County Line, Speed Of The Whippoorwill, is nonetheless a solid and even occasionally great example of contemporary bluegrass music. A bit more raw in its production (by Brian Paulson, who has worked with Beck and Wilco) than their previous efforts, the album attempts to capture some of the aggressive rock n’ roll energy that has given the band’s live shows a strong following even outside the usual bluegrass circuit. The relaxed in-studio atmosphere suits the band well, giving them ample opportunity to flex their considerable muscle as instrumentalists—banjoist Chandler Holt and mandolinist John Teer steal a bit of frontman and principal songwriter Dave Wilson’s thunder. That said, the songwriting is awfully good. In attempting to capture some of Mark Twain’s signature brand of bleak Southern humor, Teer and Wilson make their primary influence a bit too obvious on “By The Riverside,” with a line about “thinking about Huck & Jim,” but it’s refreshing to hear a modern bluegrass band striving for a literary scope to their writing. That they’re able to pull off such scope pretty well, finding the humor in opener “Company Blues” and spinning a compelling narrative on “Brice’s Crossroads,” all the while performing a forceful, floorboard stomping brand of bluegrass, certainly places Chatham County Line on the short-list of bands with the skill and vision to keep the genre relevant and even exciting.
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