There’s no doubt in my mind that Chatham County Line are one of the best traditional bluegrass bands working today; even more so because they’re much more than a trad bluegrass outfit. They’re a group of guys who know the lineage their music comes from, and who recognize and draw from that, all while being very much their own. They release great albums — but what they’re best at, where their power really comes from, is their unamplified, foot-stomping, hand-clapping, raucous live shows.
Wildwood is their fifth release; I was at the Cradle in 2008 for the release of their fourth, aptly titled IV, as well, and Lord willing and the creek don’t rise and the music industry doesn’t collapse and the band doesn’t move to Norway where they’re not just well-loved, they’re capital-f Famous, I’ll be at the Cradle in a few years for the release of what will inevitably be their equally lovely as-yet-unwritten sixth album. They owned the crowd last night, with a mix of old favorites — “The Carolinian” will always and forever be my favorite song of theirs, the end — and new songs from Wildwood, and it was all fantastic. Partly it’s their musicianship; mandolin player John Teer is, in my mind, second only to Chris Thile in talent right now. But partly it’s their charm, and their songwriting, and their harmonies. If you’re unfamiliar with their music but you like banjos and mandolins and upright basses and fiddles, they’ve been giving away tracks from the album via Yep Roc for several weeks, so I suggest you go check them out. You won’t be disappointed.
I never am, after all. And last night was no exception.
(They’re tough to shoot, because they’re four guys clustered around a single microphone. It’s a place where even my 50mm is too long; next time I shoot them, I’ll do it from a distance — tough to do in the Cradle without getting heads in your photos, unfortunately, or without a fixed aperture/f2.8 zoom I can’t afford — or with a wide angle. There’s a lame justification for buying an expensive 10-20mm or 12-24mm lens!)
Carrboro’s Birds & Arrows opened, and they were wonderful, as they always are, as well. (Andrea was nice enough to put me on their guest list, and I have tried to thank her by taking some shots of them in good lighting.) They’re getting ready to release a 7″, which delights me, and the new songs they’re playing sound fantastic. They manage a mix of drums-n-guitar that doesn’t overpower Andrea’s phenomenal voice, and the constant of Josh Starmer on cello mellows the edges of a sound that could find itself not fitting their delicate, thoughtful folk-rock. It’s been a pleasure to watch them grow up as a band, and I’m thrilled by where they’re going.