The distinctly folk-rock direction taken on this eponymous album should come as little surprise to Railroad Earth fans. The New Jersey outfit has written some of the best progressive bluegrass tunes of the last decade, but despite their traditional string band lineup—plus a drumkit—the group has always been a rock band. After drawing comparisons to the rootsier side of classic acts like The Band and the Grateful Dead throughout their career, the musicians may also achieve timelessness given the song-craft displayed here.
There are plenty of fiddle licks and mandolin swells on this release, but the emphasis is on the drum kit and electric guitar, especially on tracks like "Long Walk Home" and "Black Elk Speaks," the latter of which delivers the tough appeal of a '70s Mustang tearing down the open highway. The ethereal, psychedelic jams of RRE's live shows aren't lost on this studio release either, and they are captured perfectly on "Spring-Heeled Jack." For all the extra muscle displayed here, however, the highlight is "Day on the Sand," which strips down to frontman Todd Sheaffer's savvy guitar fingerpicking and distinguished songwriting. It provides an intimate window into the core of the band's sound.
Railroad Earth plays the Wilma Theater Friday, March 25, at 7:30 PM. $26, tickets available at Rockin Rudy's or vootie.com.