Published May 20, 2014Nearly 20 years and two bands into their collaboration, Chatham County Line have made the dreaded "mature" album. "We wanted every song to make the future greatest hits," says guitarist and lead singer Dave Wilson of their process. It shows — and that's the problem. This four-piece bluegrass outfit sounds positively shagged out on their sixth studio album. The songs — though sparely produced as usual — sound picked over, like they've been played too many times and have lost their fire. Only on album standouts like opener "The Traveler" (a gorgeous track to be sure) and rocking lead single "Tightrope of Love" do they manage to suggest spontaneity and passion.
At its worst, Tightrope dips into predictability and even (let's gently call it) borrowing. The melody for "Sixteen Years," to take the most egregious example, is Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," pretty much straight up. It's possible that it's meant to be a sequel — the lyrics sort of allow for this interpretation — but it sure doesn't work. Still, the dominant mood on the record is exemplified by stuff like "Ships at Sea" and "Hawk": once-good songs that have been denuded and defanged. Bluegrass music may be many things, but it should never be flat. (Yep Roc)