Chatham County Line “Hiyo”

Yep Roc, 2024

Bluegrass traditionalists suddenly not so traditional.

Chatham County Line Hiyo cover art‘Hiyo’ is the tenth studio album by Chatham County Line, but the first without banjo player Chandler Holt. Rather than directly replace him, the rest of the band chose instead to try a different musical direction, away from the classic, even traditional sounds of bluegrass and folk. CCL were always renowned exponents of the acoustic band around a single microphone, stepping up to take a solo, then stepping back to allow the singer space to lead. Of course, previous albums were not necessarily recorded in this way, but the sound was such that it always sounded like they might have been. Clean as mountain air, and for those who love their acoustic music, definitely a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

So, what to think when ‘Hiyo’ is ushered in by the chunky, moody, bluesy and electric-sounding chords of ‘Right On Time’? When singer Dave Wilson’s voice is swathed in reverb, and unusually enveloped in thick swathes of music around him? Or when second track ‘Magic’ dares to come in on a wave of synthesised trills and arpeggios? 

Hill himself stated that “with this album, we’ve finally busted out of the corral”. Certainly, it is a significantly different sound for the band, aided by co-producer / engineer Rachael Moore, who has previously worked with T Bone Burnette on the Robert Plant/ Alison Krauss collaboration. 

However, it should be said that after the initial shock of hearing the band move more into soundscapes than country picking, it slowly becomes clear that all the ingredients that made the band what they are, are still here. This is not a complete reinvention, but rather a different story setting for the same characters. This is a cause for celebration, as many years of perfecting song craft and melody is not lost, but instead provides the very solid foundations for a new adventure. 

Wilson’s keening voice is still a beautiful instrument in itself, and John Teer’s fiddle and (especially) mandolin are still very much present, weaving their magical nuances around the tunes, while bass player Greg Readling also has some serious chops on the pedal steel guitar; always a somewhat unearthly sound, it becomes integral to the echoey, spectral sounds of the record. 

It is definitely possible to imagine these songs in an acoustic setting too, but by reaching further out into the wider Americana field, they could now be imagined in some David Lynch-ian other-worldly situation, slightly woozy, not entirely safe. Check out ‘Lone Ranger’ or off-kilter closer ’Summerline’. 

There is always a line back to their roots, though, whether through the cover of Patsy Cline classic ’She’s Got You’ or the Appalachian feel of instrumental ‘Under the Willow Tree’.

All in all, this is a really enjoyable outing for a band that has found a fresh approach, enjoyed the process, and crucially, have communicated that joy to the rest of us listening. 


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