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Chatham County Line

Tightrope – 2014 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Chatham County Line

For a couple of decades now, the "bluegrass" genre has expanded to include a multitude of bands which, while paying at least lip service to the traditions of Monroe, the Stanleys, Lester and Earl and the rest of the founding fathers, have moved away from the cabins on the hill and the girls left behind to produce a contemporary brand of bluegrass that is richly textured, more nuanced, and produced with instrumentation, sensibilities - and technology - that set it apart from the hard-driving, high lonesome sounds of the past. Over the course of 10 years and (now) 6 albums, North Carolina-based Chatham County Line has been among the more adventurous of these bands. To paraphrase the Oldsmobile commercials of days gone by (probably before any of the band's members were born), "this is not your father's bluegrass band." But, of course, there aren't many Oldsmobiles around any more, either.

The 11 songs deal mostly, metaphorically speaking, with the balancing act between ecstasy and heartache. "The Traveler," "Any Port In A Storm," "Girl She Used To Be" and more all deal with the variety of romantic situations, ages and passions that pretty much all of us get caught up in at some point in life. "Sixteen Years" is a bittersweet look at an age at which life seems to change - for good or bad - for just about everyone. The material is all original, and all at least co-written by lead singer and guitarist Dave Wilson. The most interesting moments, though, come on a couple of tunes that focus on different sorts of love. "Hawk" is the story of a World War II veteran, told by the young boy he befriends, while "Final Reward" recalls the devotion of a Confederate casualty of Sherman's March through Georgia.

The album is well-produced, and while Wilson is not a classic bluegrass tenor in the mold of Bill Monroe, it's suggestive of what Tom Petty might have sounded like if he'd become a bluegrasser instead of a rocker. It's not traditional bluegrass, but it's got a lot going for it.