Chatham County LineIV
The first track on Chatham County Line's latest record, IV, seems to serve as a kind of statement song. "Chip of a Star" begins with a lazy banjo roll and slowly proceeds though an anything-but-traditional-bluegrass arrangement, topped off with (gasp!) pedal steal guitar and dreamy ode-to-lover lyrics. It's a good start, and you start to think that this difficult-to-label North Carolina quartet has taken a definitive step away from traditional bluegrass.
Then with the second track, CCL reels itself back in a bit. One of the strongest tunes on the album, "The Carolina," with its refrain "She's in Richmond with my heart," smacks more of the Old School. From there the album bobs and weaves, dodging label and pigeonhole with a wide breadth of style and arrangement that betrays the band's first incarnation as a rock and roll outfit. On the whole, with its emotion and introspection, this is one of the more pop-inclined bluegrass records you're likely to find this side of the Pickin' On... series.
The intended centerpiece of the album seems to be the civil rights era ballad, "Birmingham Jail." As a live number, this tune packs a punch and seizes any audience. It doesn't quite live up to that promise as a recorded take, but the effort is a noble one. The real highlight is the moderately-paced instrumental "Paige," a mandolin-heavy number that sashays easy with a classical feel.
IV never fully takes off and joins the ranks of the band's nontraditional counterparts on the western side of the continent. That's not to say that the album isn't good, because it's actually quite excellent. But the whole of the album proves that the opening track is more of a head fake, and that IV's statement is more of a confounding non-statement. Truth is, you've never heard it quite like this before.