After their 2003 debut, this Raleigh, N.C.-based bluegrass quartet shifted from side project to full-time band — and it shows here. Featuring two former members of country upstart Tift Merritt's band, Chatham County Line nicely wears the benefits of more than a year's worth of touring, boasting the tight-yet-offhand ensemble play necessary to stand up in a field dominated by virtuoso pickers.
Nonetheless, CCL remains the equivalent of a bluegrass garage band — there's a ragged glory and inspired sloppiness on Route 23 that marks them as a band of rag-tag neophytes rather than skilled masters. But the all-in-this-together spirit gives them personality, and producer Chris Stamey smartly emphasizes feel over perfection. Singer and primary songwriter Dave Wilson has grown into an expressive singer, especially on the mountain blues tunes "Ruination" and "Dark Clouds," while fiddler and mandolinist John Teer, the band's instrumental star, suggests he could hold his own in a bluegrass shootout on "Gunfight in Durango"; the harmonies shine throughout.
All former rockers, the members of Chatham County Line aren't purists — the title song, for one, draws on breezy '70s folk rock rather than string-band music — but their brand of expansive eclecticism suggests that this particular county line is capable of expanding in any number of directions.