Railroad Earth @ Best Buy Theatre – March 9
Words: Chadbyrne Dickens
Photos: Kylla Delisio
One of the prominent leaders in the current jamgrass revolution showcased their immense talent last week by returning to New York City for the first time in a year at the sold-out Best Buy Theatre. Formed in 2001, New Jersey ‘s own Railroad Earth consists of Todd Sheaffer (Lead vocals), Tim Carbone (Violin, electric guitar), John Skehan (Mandolin, Irish bouzouki), Andy Goessling (Acoustic & electric guitars, banjo, dobro, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle, saxophones), Carey Harmon (Drums) and Andrew Altman (Bass). The band’s name pays homage to a short story by Jack Kerouac.
[All Photos by Kylla Delisio]
With their patented sound including consistent rocking rhythms and gyrating grooves, Railroad Earth seems to improve every year. By mixing up a consistent rotation of bluegrass, Celtic, jazz, jam and rock, one is consistently challenged to anticipate what melodic structure or sound will come next. This particular incarnation of RRE showcased deeper and more fulfilling jams than in the past. The members played well off each other and appropriately filled in the spaces with exploratory instrumental magic. Black Elk > Spring-Heeled Jack was an appropriate opening complete with an intricate call and response jam. After the warm up, a Lake A Buddha > 1/2 Jiggy > Where Songs Begin segment fueled the crowd with its abundant energy.
Other highlights included a ripping Spring Heeled Jack, already an impressive 11 minutes on their self-titled fifth album, but now expanded even further and contained ridiculous, lengthy and intense fiddle noodling solos by Carbone. Although a professional band steeped in talent, sometimes the compliment of the band feels like a house band simply to showcase Carbone’s genius.
Up-tempo songs like a cover of Tom Waits’ Cold Water incited a danceathon. The jams were more meticulous and effective than the traditional RRE show. To many, the definitive standout moment was the festive Just So You Know with masterful mandolin picking accentuating Donna the Buffalo’s Tara Nevins on washboard and Jeb Puryear on electric guitar as they entranced the crowd as well as they had during DtB’s blistering opening set. Railroad Earth managed to galvanize a large crowd’s attention for hours. Near the closing of the second set, Birds of America proved a rapid knee-slapping party that was surreal and trancy.
The show as regarded by pontificating fans afterwards as one of the best in recent memory. Amidst a sea of quickly ascending acts like Yonder Mountain String Band, Cornmeal, Infamous Stringdusters and Cabinet, Railroad Earth again proved why they are consistently mentioned at the top of the list when one is discussing the most prolific jamgrass bands today. The band continues to extensively tour with upcoming stops in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Colorado.
Set 1: Black Elk Speaks>Spring-Heeled Jack, Cold Water, Came Up Smilin’, A Day on the Sand, Like a Buddha>1/2 Jiggy>Where Songs Begin
Set 2: The Forecast>River Intro Jam>Mighty River (A)>Colorado>Flower Between the Stones>
Gold Rush>Just So You Know (B), Birds of America>Stillwater Getaway
Encores: Bird in a House, Peace on Earth (A)
(A): with Sheryl Renee and Charlie Kay on vocals
(B): Donna the Buffalo’s Tara Nevins on washboard and Jeb Puryear on electric guitar