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Chatham County Line celebrates life on a tightrope

The Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, Mass., May 20, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Early on, Chatham County Line lead singer Dave Wilson said the four-piece bluegrass-based band was "really excited because Neil Young is playing here tonight."

Of course, the bearded singer in a suit and tie (as were his three band mates) was joking, but, in reality, he probably was excited because the North Carolina-based band had just released its latest CD "Tightrope" that day on its longstanding label, Yep Roc Records.

Wilson told the packed crowd that was almost in kissing distance of the band that they were "super excited to be...here in Cambridge in a basement." Well, Wilson was on target about the basement part anyway. This was one tiny club.

Whether feeding off the energy of a new release or the crowd or more likely both, Chatham County Line proved engaging and fun in its brand of bluegrass, which veers more modern.

Chatham Country Line came right out of the box touting the new release, opening the 90-minute set with the lead-off track, "The Traveler." The band was crowded around a single mic bluegrass style with "Chatham Co Line" written on a mic neck cover.

Wilson launched the song on acoustic guitar and vocals, setting the stage before the band kicked in with the mandolin of John Teer, banjo of Channing Holt and upright bass of Greg Reading. With a few twists and turns, including Holt taking over at one point, CCL was on its way.

Wilson took care of most of the lead vocals and with his sense of humor coming through, he served as a good anchor for the band. Teer augmented his stellar mandolin and fiddle playing by contributing harmonies as well, often stepping away from the mic and making for a denser, meatier sound.

Teer contributed the well titled "Gunfight in Durango," mainly an instrumental save for him uttering the title twice, from the band's second CD, "Route 23." Holt spiced the fast-paced song with more of his fast picking.

Chatham Country Line changed gears often enough whether vocally, including some four-part singing, or highlighting different instrumentation from song to song to keep the show moving and concluding the night with a worthy two-song encore of "Chip of a Star" and the new CD's "Tightrope of Love."

The basement of a club may not have been any band's ideal record release gig, but Chatham County Line made the most of it. Enjoying themselves with a glass of champagne from a bottle sent by a friend from back home, CCL had every reason to celebrate.

Local act Sarah Borges, who has a new disc coming out in a month, opened with another solid entertaining set playing solo acoustic. Borges also has a good sense of humor, but she's far more than that. Her voice proved very strong with the emotion of the lyrics coming through. Having good songs also helps. A solid night from Borges.