- Railroad Earth
- Last Of The Outlaws
Black Bear Records
Last Of The Outlaws finds Railroad Earth in their twelfth year together, still discovering just what they’re made of – in the nicest of ways.
Newest member Andrew Altman (who took over the bass duties from Johnny Grubb in 2010) has settled in nicely with a style that’s aggressive yet tasteful at the same time; Carey Harmon lays down some of his best studio drum work to-date on Outlaws ; and John Skehan – one of the jamgrass/Americana/whatever-you-want-to-call-it scene’s most versatile and underrated mandolin players – turns out to be just as scary good a keyboard player. In the meantime, lead vocalist/guitarist Todd Sheaffer continues to write songs that range from journeys to the center of right now to somewhere deep in the soul of characters from another time and place; Tim Carbone reminds us of what it might’ve sounded like if Jimi Hendrix had hung out with Buddhist monks and played the violin (along with tasty bits of viola, accordion, and electric guitar); and multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling manages to be everything from a one-man version of the Memphis Horns to a total Zen master of anything with strings, always offering up just exactly what’s needed in the moment.
The opening seconds of “Chasin’ A Rainbow” usher in the album with a bit of sweet fiddle/banjo/mando drift over an insistent bass pulse; Harmon kicks in with a big ol’ walloping drum beat and they’re off – a tail-chasin’, porch-thumpin’ riff with Sheaffer’s vocals nestled amidst moments of multi-chambered harmonies. Yep: sounds like Railroad Earth – and that’s a good thing. “One More Night On The Road” is a rollicking let-it-all-hang-out romp (listen for that first nasty bit of electric geetar from Carbone beginning at the 1:36 mark); everyone gets to channel their inner soulman on “Monkey”; Goessling proves that a banjo goes well with piña coladas on “When The Sun Gets In Your Blood”; “Grandfather Mountain” features some cool fiddle and dobro give-and-take); and despite its bouncy chorus, “Hangtown Ball” is a grim history lesson.
For sure, much attention will be given to the nearly-21-minute centerpiece of Last Of The Outlaws : a seven-chaptered suite that offers up massive soundscapes with flavors of everything from Celtic highlands to adventures in tie-dyed fusion to a pensive walk in the rain. This will be remembered for evermore as Railroad Earth’s “Terrapin Station”.
But for my money, the title song may be the album’s true mind-blower: Carey Harmon co-wrote “The Last Of The Outlaws” with Todd Sheaffer and his percussion work is nothing short of spectacular. Beneath the jazz voicings of Sheaffer’s guitar and the sweet molasses of Altman’s bass, Harmon works his drum kit piece-by-piece, an example of self-orchestration born of talent and confidence. Carbone and Goessling are the sous chefs on this one, blending in passages of lovely strings and horns; and Skehan’s piano pulls of the feat of being both heart-warming and heart-breaking.
For many bands, the evolution of their sound over the years comes from technological experimentation and/or gimmickry. In the case of Railroad Earth, they just keep digging deeper within their very talented selves and surprising us all.
Twelve years into it, Railroad Earth has reached a new destination with Last Of The Outlaws.
Brian Robbins takes pensive walks in the rain over at www.brian-robbins.com.