Bird in a House
First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2002, Volume 9, #7
Written by John Metzger
Railroad Earth made quite a splash with its demo-turned-debut The Black Bear Sessions. As a result, the group quickly inked a deal with the Sugar Hill label and returned to the studio to record its follow-up Bird in a House. Throughout the album, the band doesnít so much stake out new territory ó no matter, itís much too soon for that anyway ó as it does embellish its bluegrass-fueled excursions. To do so, Railroad Earth painted its songs with colorful subtleties, fleshing out the material with a little more polish and pizzazz. Sound effects politely enhance the lyrics of the bubbly Came Up Smiliní. At times ó take the opening groove Drag Him Down or the sprightly Peace on Earth, for example ó lead vocalist Todd Sheaffer masterfully channels folkie Roger McGuinn. Additionally, a vast instrumental assortment (including pennywhistle, flute, kalimba, clarinet, tuba, and trombone) is scattered amiably about the album, filling in the spaces between the intertwining foundation of banjo, mandolin, guitar, drums, and bass.
Like its predecessor, however, Bird in a House isnít about technically proficient or overly elaborate, long-winded jams. Though nearly half the tracks surpass the five-minute mark, the disc is entirely a song-oriented affair. And thatís exactly what makes Railroad Earth so damn good. The group can actually write songs that you want to hear again and again. Songs that poke through the fabric of time to pull the earliest American folk up to present day. Songs where one can get lost within another world ó be it musical or lyrical. Songs that jam enough to be interesting, but not so much as to sound elongated. Songs that drift from spiritual to playful and back again with gentle ease. Songs that wander the backroads of life, point out its difficulties, but wholly celebrate it as a thing to be lived.
Sound like the Grateful Dead? It should ó except Railroad Earth rarely sounds anything like its forefather. Instead of mimicry, the band firmly grasps its spirit and hangs on for the ride of its life. Along the way, the group finds new ways to reinvent Americana-jam music into something exciting, fresh, and wholly fascinating. Itís an absolute pleasure to hear the way the violin soars over the mandolin on the title track or the manner in which the musicians all become one to deliver Celtic-flavored selections such as Like a Buddha and Lois Ann. Thereís also the beautiful setting-sun lament Mountain Time, the jubilantly hopeful Peace on Earth, and the straight-forward bluegrass brew of Dandelion Wine. If Railroad Earth ever was just another bird in the house, itís now one that soars free. Pull up a chair. Breathe in deep. And listen to its enchanting song.
Of Further Interest...
Bird in a House 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