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Wednesday, January 22

Album Review: Railroad Earth - Last Of The Outlaws

Railroad Earth
Last Of The Outlaws
Black Bear Records
January 14, 2014 

We have learned to know the heavy touring act Railroad Earth as a jamgrass, Americana band from Stillwater, New Jersey consisting of Todd Sheaffer (guitar, vocals), Tim Carbone (violin, electric guitar, vocals), John Skehan (mandolin, piano, vocals), Andy Goessling (guitars, banjo, dobro, flute, vocals), Carey Harmon (drums, percussion, vocals), and Andrew Altman (bass, vocals). All well known for their improvisation skills, as well as their lyrical and songwriting skills. Railroad Earth released their sixth studio album, Last of the Outlaws, on January 14, 2014.

The band begins the album with a demonstration of their masterful songwriting prowess. “Chasin’ a Rainbow” is a simple tune with violinist Tim Carbone at the helm. Beautiful vocal harmonies led by primary vocalist Todd Sheaffer tell a short story of driving off into the rain, following the colors of the rainbow.

The title track is an outstanding lyrical ode to “the last of the outlaws.” The band reaches out to this mysterious person who has banished himself into the dark, begging him to show himself, not so he can be arrested or judged, but just to know that he is okay. Featuring heartfelt piano and passionate instrumental leads and lyrics, this track is sure to reach deep inside of any listener.

Picking up the pace a bit, “Grandfather Mountain” is an upbeat tune filled with positive vibes. Lyrical lead instrumental parts flow incredibly in between the verses, with Scheaffer’s symbolic lyrics personify a peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A long solo section in the middle section of the song will allow for some great improvisation in live settings.

“All That’s Dead May Live Again” consists of four parts, or movements if you will: Introit, Tuba Mirum, Lacrimosa, and Dies Irae. After a bit of research, I found that these movements are all movements of a Requiem, or Mass for the Dead. This is a tune with an incredible message that could be applied to any number of situations: war, love, friendship, etc. The beauty of this song, however, is that the message is also heard in the music. Railroad Earth has an incredible talent for integrating the instruments into the lyrics flawlessly. For example, the track begins very slow and drawn out, as if representing the “all that’s dead.” Then the instruments pick up the pace during a long instrumental portion, representing the “living again” part. And that only touches the surface of my meaning.

“All That’s Dead May Live Again” leads directly into “Face With a Hole: In Paradisum” at its peak. In Paradisum is the final movement of a Requiem. What the band has done with these two songs is incredible. A traditional Requiem acts sort of like a funeral, celebrating the soul becoming at peace. Railroad Earth has named these tunes and movements as if they are a requiem, but instead of celebrating peace of the soul, they seem to be preaching hope of life in situations in our lives when we believe that all is lost. Absolutely incredible.

“Monkey” is a lighthearted tune with less of a bluegrass feel and more of a traditional, country-and-blues-based rock & roll aspect to it. It’s a nice change-up from the rest of the album, adding in some horns and an electric guitar.

“Hangtown Ball” has that dark, melodic Railroad Earth feel we are all so familiar with from past songs such as “Mountain Time,” “Black Elk Speaks,” and “Potter’s Field,” although the chorus is a bit more upbeat. Multiple solo sections complete the tune, making it a prime suspect for some long jams in live settings.

“When the Sun Gets in Your Blood” is a cheerful tune about radiating happiness and love. Listeners can’t help but feel good after this song of joy. Another beautiful solo section takes over the middle section of the song.

“One More Night on the Road” is another bluesy rock & roll track chronicling the traditional, all too familiar story of life on the road. The band brings the horns back in for this fun dance tune.

“Take a Bow” slows things down again, fittingly discussing the end (of whatever is going on in the listener’s life at the time), as it is the final track on the album. This tune’s message is another one that could be applied to any number of situations: a chapter of your life, a relationship, a show, or even simpler ones. Once again, the instrumental parts complement the message flawlessly, bringing the album to a fitting close.

Wow! These guys did not disappoint on this new project! I was absolutely blown away by this album. 10 out of 10, 5 stars, however you want to say it. Forget their ability to improvise, this band is full of an incredible group of songwriters. The structure, melodies, lyrics, and every other part of the songs on the album fit perfectly and radiate passion and precision. I am almost tempted to say that this is their best album yet. These jamgrass giants are just getting started, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. I definitely recommend Railroad Earth – Last of the Outlaws.
Words: “Ragin’” Randy Harris
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