Monday, May 19, 2008

Finger Pickin' Good: Chatham County Line at The Cluny, Newcastle, 10/05/08 (plus Jill Barber)

The other night I dreamt that I was having some kind of lovely, tactile flirtation with Carrie Brownstein. Awesome. I have a lot of respect for the woman...Excuse 17, Sleater-Kinney, the ever-literate Monitor Mix...I'm not so keen on Thunderant, but that can be forgiven. Unfortunately, although in this dream we were clearly pals, I was something of a sycophant (unlike last week when I was being pleasured by Sunny Sweeney and didn't need to be...another dream I hasten to add! I do find it rather odd the people that pop up unannounced, and generally uninvited, in my nocturnal visions!). I tell you this despite it being mostly irrelevant because, that same night, I also dreamt that I was interviewing Dave Wilson from Chatham County Line. Which made a little more sense, as I had gone to see them live a few days before.
The interview didn't actually happen, of course, but was did happen is that Graham, the self-proclaimed "head honcho" of the marvellous Jumpin' Hot Club offered to put me on the guest list and gave me the opportunity to write a review for the J&H website.
Events and ents are like buses, it would seem. Granted, I go to a lot of gigs, but my social calendar can otherwise seem to be a bit like a large slab of emmental, i.e. with lots of holes in it! Not so this particular Saturday evening, when I was spoilt for choice - a friend's birthday meal and evening out; Beth Jeans Houghton (who I have been meaning to write about on this here blog for a jolly long time now) and Richard Dawson performing at my favourite cafe in Newcastle (Belle and Herbs in case you are Novocastrian and care!); this Chatham County Line gig; or "a multi-ethnic cast performing a modern dance interpretation of male sexuality and prejudice". Seriously? That last one?? And that's how my friend was trying to sell it to me! Thanks for the invitation, but...
Plumping (as you already know by now) for Chatham Co. Line (the first thing that I had arranged to be doing anyway), I headed off to the Cluny. Of course, leaving the house at all meant missing Scary Movie 2, Britain's Got Talent and Madonna Live at Radio 1's Big Weekend, so it was a tough call! (I tease).

So who are Chatham County Line? They are four young fellas from North Carolina who make sort-of-old-timey-string-band music together on the banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle and double (upright) bass. Their names, should you be interested, are the aforementioned Dave Wilson, John Teer, Chandler Holt and Greg Readling, they formed in 1999, and they released their fourth album, the appropriately titled IV, just this year.

So far so good, but there's not much 'review' to this gig review yet, is there? Let's rectify that and start things proper by talking about the support Jill Barber.

Another Canadian (this blog seems to be replete with them lately), Jill Barber grew up in Toronto and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia (as opposed to Halifax, West Yorkshire!). Her low-key folksy songs showcase a very pretty voice and some canny lyrics, for example "there's nothing finer than an A 7th Minor" and "I am just a dreamer wearing sensible shoes / And I still dream in colour even though I sing the blues". For me, however, her set was generally a little samey...none of the songs were all that distinguishable from the rest, and there was a bit too much vibrato for my liking. But she certainly shows promise (and in fact has won awards in her native Nova Scotia) and has already worked with the likes of Ron Sexsmith, with whom she wrote the song Chances.
After a spot of ill-advised, off tune whistling, the definite high point of Jill's performance was the final song, an entirely acoustic cover of Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Here her voice sounded great and she really held my attention...perhaps because the switch to acoustic meant that this one did sound different from the rest. Oh, and she gets brownie points too for 'mucking in' and coming to sit on the steps in the audience to watch the rest of the gig.

Jill Barber website and MySpace.
mp3: Hard Line - Jill Barber (zSHARE)

Next up it was, of course, Chatham Co. Line with their modern, almost indie kid, take on bluegrass. If you have not heard them before, think Old Crow Medicine Show and you wouldn't be a million miles away from what these guys sound like. Sharing, as in the picture just above, one microphone between the four of them, bobbing in and out like chickens for vocals and picking solos, this was certainly interesting to watch. The harmonies were so top notch that they reminded me of a barbershop quartet in places...except with instruments! Kudos goes, in particular, to John Teer, who was superlative on both mandolin and fiddle...although Chandler Holt and his banjo were not far behind.

Although Dave Wilson is something of a frontman for the group, holding the majority of chatting duties and most frequent lead vocals, all four of these guys seemed like nice, down-to-earth lads. They were completely at ease in front of this audience, joking along and proffering anecdotes like they were in their home town. Wilson recounted to us the band's decision in naming their most recent album, IV, saying that this was as a result of doing so many interviews with journalists who would persist in asking them how it felt to have an album out when they had just released their third! He hopes that, in naming it IV, there is also a chance of it sticking around in the history books as a "badass record" on a par with Led Zeppelin's album of the same title.

This was an enjoyable and accomplished gig, but did not blow me away in the same way Carolina Chocolate Drops, the last string band I saw, did. Nevertheless, these blokes were very good at what they did, and worked very well together...perhaps best, despite the excellent harmonies elsewhere, on the instrumental, fast-picking numbers. There is, however, always an exception to the rule, and this was with stand out gig highlight, the Monroe Brothers' gospel song What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul.

Watch out for these guys...they may already be four albums in, but I think that they are starting to get the attention they deserve; earlier this week they were on Later With Jools Holland (for those not in the UK, this is possibly the biggest music show over here) and, with IV, they really have produced a peach of an album.

Chatham County Line website and MySpace.

mp3: Chip of A Star - Chatham County Line

mp3: Birmingham Jail - Chatham County Line

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