...live at the Filmore, 2014
That old Coen brothers feature film titled O Brother Where Art Thou was in part responsible for the second coming of bluegrass music in America. The soundtrack, built almost entirely from Depression-era folk music, won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2001. Railroad Earth, an uncommon acoustic band, came to light as part of America’s sudden renewed love of the rural arts. Then, when singer-songwriter folk music likewise hit big again, Railroad Earth fit right in with that scene, too; neither genre is very far from the other. So, how does one account for Railroad Earth’s recent cover of a David Bowie song, complete with a snake’s nest of jazzy saxophones?
Hippies with electricity: Railroad Earth is a sextet that started in Stillwater, New Jersey, more than a dozen years ago. Yes, it’s an acoustic band, but the instruments are played using the tools of rock and roll. Meaning, big amplification, effects pedals, overdrive, delay, and all of the other electronic sound-reinforcement tricks one might find in, say, Eddie Van Halen’s gig bag. The Railroad Earth experience is a stage filled with acoustic gear that looks like your basic mix of stringed instruments but that sound eerily unfamiliar, as if gravity has ceased to exist.
- Friday, March 3, 2017, 8 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,
It’s the singing that keeps a band like this one firmly planted on the terra firma. Todd Sheaffer and Tim Carbone vocalize with that earnest fire-in-the-belly holler we all grew up listening to on country music’s finest television hour, Hee Haw. In all this time, the band has released only seven albums, the most recent of which dropped all of three years ago. Big favorites on the college, bluegrass-festival, and outdoor-amphitheater circuits, Railroad Earth keep to their multi-generic roots and socially conscious trippy music-with-a message, kind of like an electrified Woodie Guthrie. No, on second thought, not so much like Guthrie at all.