Railroad Earth  played to a packed house at Headliners Music Hall Friday night. The sextet from New Jersey had a close to capacity crowd grooving and jumping to their multitudinous array of instrumental sounds, reflecting a sense of Americana roots mixed with a jam band sensibility.
Railroad Earth features compositions that seem very wholesome, and also seem to be carved out of the general Appalachian culture. Albeit, Railroad Earth’s sound isn’t country, it isn’t bluegrass and it isn’t rock. In fact, the songs of Railroad Earth blend a number of genre’s reflecting America’s rich musical heritage. It would be difficult to place it using strict musical categorization.
Regardless of where Railroad Earth is placed on the musical spectrum, the music just feels right and must make those listening feel good, as there were lots of random hugs and smiles all night long.
The band incorporates several different instruments into its performances which makes their music dynamic and rich. During the performance, each musician played more than one instrument. For example, Andy Goessling lists nine different instruments on the band’s MySpace page : Acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, Dobro, lap steel, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle, saxophones and vocals. John Skehan throws in vocals, a mandolin and Irish bouzouki, a string instrument adopted for traditional Irish and folk music. Tim Carbone contributes a violin, accordion, vocals, and electric guitar. Drummer Carey Harmon is the heart of the rhythm section with his drum playing, hand percussion and vocals. Lead singer Todd Sheaffer plays electric and acoustic guitars. When all of them are together playing on stage, it is impressive.
At Headliner’s, there wasn’t much of an introduction or greeting as the band took the stage. They quickly got into place and started playing. Those in attendance quickly took to the sound with their best groove and step.
Owen, a 31-year-old who had just moved to Louisville from Chicago, was totally digging the music and good vibes present at the music venue. He said that this was his first experience with music reflecting a Bluegrass sound.
Owen said, “Being from Chicago the music scene up there is so uptight and industrial sounding. There are lots of electronic influences in the mainstream music scene. So this is really nice and I’m loving it.”
A majority of those questioned admitted they had never heard of Railroad Earth, but no one was displaying any body language to suggest they were let down or disappointed at the performance. If anything, the way the crowd reacted was quite the contrary. No one seemed to turn away from the stage, and everyone was moving to the rhythm which featured a great range of percussion instruments, adding what was an excellent range of sounds and texture.
It has been written that Railroad Earth had in the past preferred not to play long stretches of solo segments. However, when playing at Headliner’s the band seemed to be strongest and very comfortable as they jammed for long stretches, getting the crowd all up in a tizzy.
Their most recent album is a self-titled release on the One Haven Music label, its first project with One Haven Music. The sixth Railroad Earth album is pretty straightforward and an enjoyable listen, bringing with it what the band has been most successful with and is most known for; music that’s mixed with a rather potent combination of bluegrass, rock, folk, country and Celtic music. There is a nice variation of tempo on the record. Some songs on the self-titled album want to jam and others want to take it easy with a sound that soothes. Vanity Fair said about its sixth album the “gritty guitars were turned up and the vocals evoked a Full Moon Fever era of Tom Petty harmonies.”
Amy Rench, a 29-year-old from Louisville had seen the band three times, at outdoor music venues over the course of the summer festival season. Railroad Earth plays about 12 different string instruments and Rench said she really enjoys that component of their sound.
Rench said, “There’s nothing better than strings, and when they all get together [and play, it’s something special].” Rench went on to add that she knew a lot of people in attendance and they were all having a great time.
Railroad Earth played a great set that certainly delighted those in attendance. These days, they seem to be in their stride, capable of producing music that has a positive spirit and wide appeal, bringing the kind of energy and richness present at the best of live musical performances.
Photo: Megan Schweizer