With a name borrowed from Jack Kerouac and a musical philosophy which sees them soaked in heritage to the point where trying to pin any badge of style on them is useless, Railroad Earth are pretty distinctive. Dotting the album cover with old time images and individuals the band themselves are well hidden inside the top corner of a fold out cover. They appear as if they’ve just done a day’s hard graft at a saw mill, all blue jeans and moody stares, indeed they took the rustic influence even as far as recording in the wilder outreaches of New Jersey, laying down the album in isolation. This is an album that sounds like it’s been crafted from American roots rather than just recorded, parts of it are so entrenched you’d be hard put to think of any other location it could have sprung from. Credit due therefore to Todd Sheaffer who as main songwriter takes on the bulk of the composition though he is superbly backed up by the rest of the band especially mandolin and keyboard player John Skehan, all of them drink from the same deep well of history. Not that they’re scared to unleash the odd electric guitar crackle amongst the high harmonies, tasteful acoustic picking and stomp along melodies.
Last Of The Outlaws falls into two distinct halves, those which are joyous shuffles, the songs to get everybody grinning and light in the heart – in fact chiefly what they’ve been about to this point- but tracks 4 – 10, out of 15 it has to be noted, are at 20 minutes virtually a small symphony which builds and rises over a free flow of music which defines the album as the one on which they cut any ties that bind. Of course you can still her the echoes of the misplaced newgrass tag I’ve seen applied to them before now, they know it would be silly to leave all the luggage behind but what All That’s Dead May Live Again onwards represents is pioneering with confidence. These guys don’t need a map, they read it, understood it and threw it away before they even set out on the road trip. More power to them, this is a bold leap into the same sort of credence as fellow cultural cavileers The Decemberists.
From dusty, raw edged howls of tradition to almost progressive elements filtered through the prism of identity and character, whilst it may not be their ultimate recording – that will come – this is still a brave and distinct creation.