Live Radio Bristol Session with Chatham County Line performing "Sire Song" from the 2017 International Bluegrass
Our band is a lot like this place,” says Chatham County Line guitarist, lead singer and songwriter Dave Wilson. His eyes wander across the original hardwood lanes of the midcentury Raleigh bowling alley where he just finished rolling and drinking two rounds. Playing traditional string band instrumentation around a single microphone while clad in suits and ties visually projects a similar sepia toned timelessness. “We create a product that you’re familiar with and you’ll enjoy going back to because you know what to expect. My dad ran a local hardware store years ago and I always felt like we shared that.”
Sure enough, like a small town store, there’s no dramatic tale or sexy hook to fuel the hype machine for Autumn, the seventh studio album since the Raleigh, NC-based Chatham County Line—Wilson, John Teer (mandolin/fiddle), Chandler Holt (banjo), and Greg Readling (bass, pedal steel, piano)—coalesced in the late 1990’s. Instead, the story behind the workmanlike group’s newest release—available September 2, 2016 via Yep Roc Records—is simple: A veteran ensemble at the top of its game sticking to its considerable strengths—poignant songwriting and inventive acoustic arrangements that draw upon a broad array of American roots influences, highlighted by trademark three and four part harmonies that shine throughout.
But like the flatscreen televisions that now dot those bowling lanes, the quartet respects its history—from bluegrass inventor Bill Monroe to innovators like John Hartford—while remaining mindful of more modern influences, including its members’ backgrounds in rock bands. “We were so obsessive ab out the way Tightrope sounded and making sure we got the songs right that this record was kind of a 180 from that,” Wilson explains, referring to the meticulous, multiyear process that birthed Autumn’s predecessor. “I think we were all exhausted from that process and wanted to just take the songs I had written and record them.”
Thanks to the more casual approach, Autumn marries the comfortable maturity of 2014’s Tightrope with the welcome spontaneity of Chatham County Line’s earlier work. With some finishing touches done at Durham, NC’s Overdub Lane, two brief sessions—produced by Wilson at Kernersville, NC’s Fidelitorium—over the falls of 2014 and 2015 yielded not only the eleven tracks that comprise Autumn, but also a title for the album. Though the year between sessions wasn’t dedicated to consciously working on the record, it was perhaps the most productive period for the songs to take shape, according to Wilson. “It’s like leaving your desk and taking a walk: You have your best ideas when you’re not working on what you’re supposed to be working on.”
Nestled in the heart of the album, “Jackie Boy”—which Wilson describes as a “tribute to my old college friends and their dogs that have passed”—is a prime example of a song idea that was fully realized after a long gestation period. “That idea had been floating around in my head for a lot of years, but it was a really long, drawn out song that no one would want to listen to,” he explains. “Eventually, I got fed up, came up with that guitar part and amalgamated the story.”
Supported by a sparse, circular guitar pattern and accented by languid chops of Teer’s mandolin and mournful peals of Readling’s pedal steel, the wistful ballad’s tearjerking lyrics are imminently relatable for anyone who has lost a beloved canine. Similarly, the rollicking album finale “Show Me The Door” was built around a piano part that had been rolling around in Readling’s head for the better part of a decade before the band jammed over it during Autumn’s first studio session. The album track mostly features the words Wilson devised during that initial run through, positioning the tune as a put up or shut up sendoff.