Catham Country Line – Rock in the River

A staple of the Yep Roc roster since 2005, North Carolina’s Chatham County Line often get labeled as a bluegrass act, though that’s only a small part of what they do. More than anything, they’re an Americana string band focused around the subtle songwriting talents of singer/guitarist Dave Wilson, who also acts as producer on Autumn, the group’s eighth LP. In the album’s press release, Wilson compares his band to both an old bowling alley and a hardware store in that they reliably deliver a familiar experience that keeps customers coming back year after year. It’s self-deprecating, for sure, but Chatham County Line are anything but flashy, and they are certainly reliable in terms of quality and tone. For a string band album titled Autumn, they deliver exactly what you’d want: a nuanced selection of warm, earthy music replete with gentle guitar picking, woody mandolin, muted banjo, occasional piano, and a robust vocal blend to evoke the wistful changing of the season. A rich inner language can be felt between Wilson and his colleagues John Teer (mandolin, fiddle), Chandler Holt (banjo, vocal), and Greg Readling (bass, piano, pedal steel, organ) whose parts all dovetail perfectly in the casual kind of way that comes from years of collaborating together. Instead of coming out of the gate at a sprint, they open with “You Are My Light,” an early highlight with an underpinning of late-year darkness in its slinky midtempo hook. The maritime-themed “Siren Song,” another strong cut, is imbued with a timeless comfort that belies its fine craft. In fact, the band’s amiable delivery often draws attention away from their effortless compositions and arrangements to the point that they can occasionally come across as unassuming. It’s once again the autumnal darkness that pulls them into sharper focus on the standout “Moving Pictures of My Mind,” a haunting ballad whose very essence conjures up the chillier, lonesome side of their album’s title.

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