CD Reviews for 03/04/05 (Chris Stamey, The Moaners, Chatham County Line) by Dan Ferguson

Chris Stamey Experience
A Question Of Temperature
Yep Roc YEP-2090

Three days last summer, in the heart of Hoboken, New Jersey of all places, was about all it took to create A Question Of Temperature from the Chris Stamey Experience. The Hoboken connection comes thanks to Water Music Recorders located in that lovely urban outpost overlooking Manhattan. It was there back in 1980 that Stamey inaugurated the studio recording his first solo album in the place. Since that time, clients of the joint have ranged from U2 to REM to the late Joey Ramone to Hoboken favorites Yo La Tengo. Speaking of Yo La Tengo, its principal components, that being Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew, are a significant part of the Chris Stamey Experience along with the likes of keyboardist Tyson Rogers, Caitlin Cary, former dBs mate of Stamey’s Gene Holder, and members of Chapel Hill-based bluegrass band Chatham County Line. They all join Stamey on this pop rock record that finds Stamey balancing crafty originals with catchy covers. In many respects, little has changed in the Stamey scheme of things since 1980 or more specifically, going back to his days as a member of Carolina pop wonderkins the dBs. Those familiar with Stamey’s travails as singer, songwriter, musician and producer (Whiskeytown, Matthew Sweet, Le Tigre) are probably well aware that the guy has always had a keen sense for crafting pop music and with that, an unquenchable thirst for rocking out. Blending original tunes with hand-picked nuggets from way deep in the rock ‘n’ pop song bag, A Question Of Temperance is pure Stamey covering all the bases in creating a record that the open-minded indie pop and rock fan will have a hard time not falling for. Let’s start with the covers, tuneful nuggets from a refreshingly mixed bag that ranges from a classic rock remake ala The Yardbirds’ “Shapes Of Things” to Television’s “Venus” to “Politician” from the Creme archives to the Vietnam era anti-war number “(Let’s Make It Real) Compared To What”. Onto the originals, they don’t kick in until mid-disc beginning with the total pop of “The Summer Sun” which segues into the beautifully basic instrumental “Come On”. There’s the tranquil tones of “Sleepless Nights” which segues into the gem-like vignette “McCauley Street (“Let’s Go Downtown)” featuring a mid-song, runaway Ira Kaplan guitar explosion and which while clocking in at ten-plus minutes is to these ears the centerpiece of the record, before giving way to the straight-up guitar rocker “Desperate Man”. Those are just some of the high points of which there are many on this album. Following his 2004 solo release Travels In the South (Yep Roc), with A Question Of Temperature it is obvious Chris Stamey is once again on a roll. (Yep Roc Records, PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821, or

Chatham County Line
Route 23
Yep Roc YEP-2087

Here’s thinking that when you are your label’s only entry for a particular genre of music, it can potentially work real well for you. (Historically speaking, however, I can think of a number of situations where it was a complete disaster with alt country singer/songwriter Mike Ireland’s late 1990s time on Sub Pop Records taking the cake.) In the case of Yep Roc Records’ lone entry in the bluegrass world, Chatham County Line, the thinking here is it is nothing but a positive. Heck, the fact that the band returns with its brand new, second longplayer for the label called Route 23 is testament enough that the label is doing the band as right as the band is the label. Situated pretty much in the heartland of bluegrass country, both the label and the band certainly have geography working for them. Also working for all is the fact that this is a talented band definitely on the rise. The fact Chatham County Line garnered the best new bluegrass band honors at the 2004 edition of the prestigious Rockygrass Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colorado is clearly indicative of such a claim. Need more proof? Well, one need not look any further than the 14 tracks, all but one an original composition, comprising Route 23. The band features flatpicker Dave Wilson, Chandler Holt on the banjo, Greg Readling on the stand-up bass, and multi-instrumentalist John Teer on mandolin and fiddle. Like all solid bluegrass bands, democracy is hard at work when it comes to Chatham County Line with all four members chipping in on vocals which when on those pieces that it all comes, makes for some great harmonies with the tune “Louisiana Freight Train”, which also features a guest appearance by Caitlin Cary, just one of many shining examples. As much of a traditional plank as Chatham County Line walks on Route 23, it also brings a few out of the bluegrass ordinary twists into the mix like employing pedal steel and harmonica on a few numbers for a more country flavoring. Hence the band describing themselves as “New Traditionalists”. And speaking of Chris Stamey, he displays his versatility producing this sophomore release from Chatham County Line. Recommended.

Chatham County Line performs at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge on Tuesday, April 19. The Cantab Lounge is located at 738 Massachusetts Avenue. Call (617) 354-2684.

The Moaners
Dark Snack
Yep Roc YEP-2088

It is as basic as meat and potatoes, or peanut butter and jelly. Guitar and drums. Nothing more, nothing less, and amped, of course. Bands like garage punk dudes Flat Duo Jets and even swampster Tony Joe White made all kinds of totally cool racket with that basic of all set-ups. Blame it in part on the White Stripes for bringing it back into fashion, not to mention similarly configured bands like the Black Keys who also tap into the guitar-drums garage/punk/blues duo thing. Simply put, that simplest of all noisemaker configurations is as popular as ever. With the release of its debut recording called Dark Snack, you can now officially add the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based twosome The Moaners to the list. The twist when it comes to The Moaners is it is an all-female duo. The band is fronted by guitarist and Mississippi native Melissa Swingle. Folks may know of Swingle from her role as lead singer and guitarist for roots band Trailer Bride which has had a handful of albums to its credit released for insurgent country indie Bloodshot Records. Accompanying Swingle in the duo is drummer Laura King who most recently was part of the band Grand National. Compared to the droning, Southern Appalachia gothic slant of her work with Trailer Bride, The Moaners on Dark Snack rock hard in a raw, unabashed sort of way. Whereas the record does offer a few fleeting moments of solitude – the slow moan grunge of “Too Many People” and gothic Delta groove of “Hard Times” – Dark Snack more often than not smacks of a riff-filled ferociousness fortified by the combination of the dark, guitar-driven Delta blues rock of Swingle and her monotone delivery finding its inner soul time and again across the dozen tracks. Frankly, it’s a bit of a refresher to hear her acquired-taste voice in this bare bones setting. Swingle’s inspirations provide plenty of fodder for the Dark Snack menu taking the listener from “Elizabeth Cotton’s Song” featuring lyrics from the Cotton classic “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” to her salute to female Southern writer Flannery O’Connor titled simply “Flannery Said”. Produced by Rick Miller of Southern Culture On the Skids fame, there’s something invigorating about this album which relies on little more than the basic necessities of roots-based music. The fact that it is a couple of felines responsible for all this cool noise is just another enticing feature to this juke joint rock out.