Published on February 22nd, 2014 | by Stratton Lawrence0
Review: Chatham County Line and Underhill Rose Bring High Harmony to the Hall
Chatham County Line w/ Underhill Rose
Charleston Music Hall
“Are you comfortable out there?” asked Chatham County Line’s Dave Wilson at the start of their Friday night set at the Music Hall before following up with, “This is the nicest smelling place we’ve played in Charleston. And thank you for not forcing us to take shots of tequila before we got on stage.”
For a foursome that gathers around one microphone stand, the Hall’s acoustics and seated audience proved a perfect venue. The band might have easily played sans-amplification, with the hushed room making the dynamics of their banjo/mandolin interplay come alive in songs like the train-imagery filled “The Carolinian” and the beautifully elegant, “Chip of a Star.”
Harmonies were on rich display all night, beginning with first act Underhill Rose, a trio of women based in Asheville. The group keeps their songs simple, with clawhammer banjoist Eleanor Underhill and guitarist Molly Rose Reed sharing lead duties. There were no banjo rolls or flat-picking — the emphasis is on the melding of voices, best exemplified in their set closing song “Better Off Alone.” Where their lyrics might lack poignancy at times — emotions are laid bare with little room for poetic reinterpretation — the group more than compensates with delivery (and tunes like “The End of 27” do contain their moments of wit and wisdom).
The night’s order of affairs was correctly planned, with Underhill Rose perfectly warming the stage for Chatham County Line’s seasoned, bluegrass-tinged approach. Unlike their contemporaries with similar instrumentation, CCL doesn’t come out swinging, showing off their chops one-by-one. When a member takes a solo, it’s an integrated process and a sum of a whole. Their stage demeanor always feels confident but comfortable — an attitude that the band clearly wants to share with their audience.
At the same time, Wilson admitted to the crowd that they often wonder what it might feel like to have a hit song. “We’ve got grits, not glitz,” he quipped. “But we do have Schlitz.”
The audience willingly obliged him, cheering heartily for the subsequent tune, “Crop Comes In,” and again when it came time to call the band back out for a two-song encore.
Not that long ago, Chatham County Line was a name on par with the Avett Brothers or the Steep Canyon Rangers, two of their N.C. contemporaries to springboard to much larger stages over the last half-decade. But while CCL continues to chug along, gradually moving from clubs to larger stages like the Music Hall, their easy-going yet highly refined approach to string band songwriting may prove to have steam for endurance far down the tracks.
Photos by Jon Santiago.
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