Considering the fact that they've had a tenure of some two decades, it's taken far too long for Chatham County Line to gain the wider recognition they so decidedly deserve. Although often relegated to the ranks of a bluegrass group, the band has ventured further afield in recent years, first with"Sharing the Covers," an album that found them reinterpreting songs by Beck and the Stones alongside traditional favorites such as Dr. Ralph Stanley. The second endeavor to find them outside their comfort zone involved a collaboration with Judy Collins and Norway's Jonas Fjeld for a well received effort titled "Winter Stories."
Encouraged perhaps by the success of those recent ventures, the band made some internal changes as well. Founding member and banjo player Chandler Holt left the band, marking the group's first shift in their line-up in nearly 20 years. They also added drummer Dan Hall to their ranks, the first time in their history they've opted to utilize a full-time percussionist. In addition, singer Sharon Van Etten was asked to share the vocal duties on the title track, another innovation for this self-contained ensemble.
Happily, it's all worked out remarkably well. Nine albums on, "Strange Fascination" finds Chatham County Line in the full throes of creativity. From the heartfelt opening "Oh Me Oh My," the tender charms of the title track and the easy stride of "Station to Station," to the upbeat surge of the ebullient "Free Again" and the rowdy, ramshackle "Leave This World," it's a remarkably affecting effort, and certainly one likely to make the most immediate connection of all their albums they've released thus far. The melodies are effortlessly accessible and the sentiments shared ring with a tenderness and resilience that sets a mostly mellow mood.
"Don't know how lucky you are," they coo via that title song, and indeed, after a single listen, that's clearly the case as far as anyone that hears it is concerned.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book, "Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound," is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.