Based on looks alone, Chatham County Line conjures a sepia-toned timelessness by huddling around a single microphone on stage, playing traditional string band instrumentation while clad in suits and ties. But for nearly two decades, the Raleigh, NC-based outfit has consistently crafted top-notch, original modern acoustic music that draws upon American roots forefathers like bluegrass inventor Bill Monroe and folk innovator John Hartford while acknowledging its own members’ backgrounds in rock ‘n’ roll band
Characterized by poignant songwriting and inventive arrangements, Chatham County Line’s latest album, Autumn, sees the quartet working comfortably in its sweet spot: Built around songwriter/guitarist Dave Wilson’s clever lines and compelling vignettes, the record is a treasure trove of the wistful balladry and dynamic toe-tappers that’ve become the band hallmarks. John Teer (mandolin/fiddle), Chandler Holt (banjo), and Greg Readling (bass) add stellar three- and four- harmonies for vocal highlights, while their impeccable yet unconventional picking—rooted in bluegrass but informed by a wealth of other influences—impresses without overshadowing Wilson’s rich storytelling.
From elegant European concert halls to large American folk festivals, Chatham County Line has become a fixture on both sides of the Atlantic, where the musical relationships fostered by its consistent line-up are apparent through an unspoken chemistry that allows the freedom for improvisational flashes that seem as polished as the rest of its set. For a veteran ensemble that’s long made music on its own terms, perhaps its toughest task is now choosing which of the many gems from its seven albums get to shine in a given performance.