Since rising from the ashes of previous band Stillhouse a quarter of a century ago, Chatham County Line have been presenting their modern take on the bluegrass tradition to a devoted fan base across the world. Hiyo is their 11th studio album and sees the back expanding their horizons and fleshing out their sound with synthesisers, drum machines and more electric guitar than they traditionally do.
This is first evident in second track ‘Magic’ which shimmies its way into your ears fast on the heels of ‘Right on Time’. If the opening song (and lead single) manages to lure you into a false security, this is soon undone with what follows.
Singer and main songwriter Dave Wilson has stated how liberating it was to get rid of any preconceptions of how CCL sound, and this freedom definitely has a positive affect on this collection of songs.
As the sound expands, the song themselves feel more introspective, focusing on joy, sorrow, love and heartbreak and other subjects like ‘Lone Ranger’, a tale about chance encounters and how they can make someone feel like a celebrity and about a childhood in front of the TV where all the characters felts like heroes that you knew.
Most of these songs sound ideal for a soundtrack to the needy great western movie, no more so than ‘BSR’, which deals with living by the Black Sugar River – “you gonna cut that cane while the buzzards fly/ Stacked taller than a man who’ll never get of this world alive”. The song allows you to get into the bones of the men and women who are labouring in the fields the lyrics depict.
The album closes with the sublime and majestic ‘Summerline’ – where Wilson croons like Sinatra with full jazz piano backing. It’s an unexpected left turn, a beautifully delivered song and the perfect way to go off into the night.
On previous releases, CCL have always shown what a wonderfully tight unit they are, who are consistently able to write songs of the highest order, set to melodies that will stay with you long after the last chord fades. On Hiyo though, they allowed themselves to go further, to push themselves past what is expected of them, and they’re all the better for it.