Chatham County Line

Music Reviews Chatham County Line
Chatham County Line

(pictured above[L-R]: Chatham County Line’s John Teer, Chandler Holt and Dave Wilson. Photo by Stuart Munro.)

Cambridge’s Cantab Lounge is a hole-in-the-wall bar that also offers a couple of musical attractions on a weekly basis. Legendary doo-wop and R&B artist Little Joe Cook and his Thrillers have been holding court there every weekend for 25 years. And for the past decade, every Tuesday has been bluegrass night, starting off with some picking, then a featured band, then more picking, and as often as not, the place is packed to the gills.

The featured performer is frequently is an up-and-coming national act: the last few months have seen visits from Uncle Earl, The Grascals and The Steep Canyon Rangers. Last Tuesday, before heading overseas for its first-ever European tour, Chatham County Line paid its third visit to the joint (the band loves it up here, said singer Dave Wilson, who professed himself and his colleagues to be members of Red Sox Nation).

The band packed a lot into its set, tearing through 19 songs in an hour or so (no “Rocky Top,” though; while promising to play a couple of audience requests, Wilson informed the crowd that they would not entertain any for “the ‘Freebird’ of bluegrass”). Onstage, as on record, the band relies mainly on original compositions, most of ‘em from the pen of guitarist/lead vocalist Wilson. Chatham County drew equally on its two releases, playing a nice mix of ballads (“Parlour Light,” the mournful “Closing Town”) and breakdowns (the rustic “Bacon in the Skillet,” and especially sweet harmonizing on “Born to Be With You”). They added Jimmie Rodgers’ “Brakeman’s Blues” to the set—mandolin/fiddle player John Teer took the song’s lead vocal, displaying the piercing force of his high tenor—and threw in a couple of their own instrumentals as well, which allowed both Teer and banjo player Chandler Holt (particularly on his “Sun Up”) to show their stuff.

Chatham County Line’s approach is not obsessively traditionalist, but is solidly (and consciously) rooted there; the group’s onstage attire, use of a single microphone (watching band members syncopating in and out of its range for solos on the Cantab’s small stage was a treat), and ample use of two-, three-, and four-part harmonies hearken back to Bill Monroe (and other bluegrass forebears), as does the evocative style of Teer’s mandolin playing. That it happened to be the 94th anniversary of Monroe’s birth made it an auspicious evening for the show, and the band provided some fine bluegrass to mark the occasion.

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