The Black Bear Sessions
First Appeared at The Music Box, March 2002, Volume 9, #3
Written by John Metzger
Where From Good Homes ó a New Jersey-based band that found themselves signed to RCA Records and touring in support of Ratdog ó showed a lot of promise, Railroad Earth fulfills it. Fronted by Todd Sheaffer, the band incorporates some of the best songwriting, vocals, and instrumental interplay to hit the jam band scene in years. It's a fresh shot in the arm to a tired, often meandering genre that, these days, often disappoints and rarely excites.
Railroad Earth's debut The Black Bear Sessions was originally conceived as a five-song demo, but the music was so good, so tight, and so wonderful that the group completed the album in order to get something into the hands of fans and capitalize on the buzz it had generated. The album is steeped in bluegrass, but Railroad Earth folds in a myriad of other textures ó from styles as broad as Celtic and jazz to artists as diverse as Steve Earle, the Grateful Dead, Arlo Guthrie, and The Eagles.
The Black Bear Sessions begins with Head, as a flourish of banjo and a chorus of rich harmonies blast Railroad Earth out of the starting gate. But just when you think youíve got the idea, the band detours through an engaging musical interlude that blends mandolin, acoustic guitar, and fiddle with a driving, locomotive rhythm. Indeed, the band chose its name wisely ó a possible reference to the Jack Kerouac poem October in Railroad Earth ó as each song features its own earthy textures and traveling grooves. And like Head, the album winds its way from place to place, visiting a redemption-seeking hoedown one minute (Lordy Lordy) and dreamy, acoustic beauty the next (Black Bear).
The Black Bear Sessions is simply one of those rare albums that ages well, unleashing a new discovery with each subsequent listen it is given. Thatís quite a testament to something that was meant merely to be a taste for concert promoters, press, and record labels. It wasnít meant to showcase the band in all its glory. Yet, thatís exactly what the bandís debut does. One can only wonder what songs lie waiting to spring from the minds of Sheaffer and his bandmates. But if The Black Bear Sessions is any indication, Railroad Earth is destined to have a rather promising future.
The Black Bear Sessions is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box