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Published: 2008/06/23
by Matt Brockett

Amen Corner – Railroad Earth

Sci Fidelity

For their fourth studio album, Amen Corner, Railroad Earth took an approach that most artists only dream about. Knowingly or not, when the band chose to record this album at home and at their own pace, free of the pressures of expensive studio time, they created an environment of tangible relaxation and artistic comfort in which each and every song and musician shines brilliantly. The tight and spirited musical interplay that these boys have made their trademark is front and center at their live shows and on the double-live release Elko, and is thankfully just as prominent here, translating beautifully in the studio setting.

Whether they’re tugging at your heartstrings with the beauty and warmth of a tune like “Little Bit O’ Me,” or burning down the barn with Johnny Grubb’s oompah bassline on “Bringin’ My Baby Back Home,” this is a band that delivers nothing less than gorgeously precise instrumentation and truly poetic songwriting. The countrified twang of “Waggin’ The Dog” and the baritone sax-infused “Hard Livin’” showcase a bit of the raucous and rocking side of the band. With the dreamy “Right In Tune” and the gorgeous “Lovin’ You,” guitarist and vocalist Todd Sheaffer proves that he can write some damn fine love songs. As if there’s ever been a reason to question his songwriting abilities. Speaking of songwriters, Tim Carbone makes his vocal debut on “Crossing The Gap,” an infectious and intense song he penned with mandolin player John Skehan that’s bound to make a connection with just about anyone, especially those with New Jersey or northern Pennsylvania ties. “The Forecast” and “Lonecroft Ramble,” named for Sheaffer’s 300-year old New Jersey barn, Lone Croft, where the album was recorded, are shining examples of the stunning and instantly memorable instrumentals this band can conjure up.

When you’ve got a crew of top-rate musicians with this much obvious musical chemistry, incredible things are bound to happen. If you haven’t been paying attention, you may have regrettably dismissed some of this blossoming magic as the usual jamband formula with a bluegrass twist. If so, do yourself a favor and take another long hard listen, and you might be surprised at what you find. Listen closely and you’ll hear the reason why the crowd at a Railroad Earth show usually includes old-school bluegrass pickers bopping next to college-aged dreads in training, as Deadheads of all ages spin their hearts out and a cowboy hat wearing country boy lets out a “Yee-haw!” and grabs another beer.

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