The Good Life
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2004, Volume 11, #7
Written by John Metzger
On the surface, Railroad Earthís third endeavor The Good Life isnít all that different from its previous outings. After all, the groupís easy-going blend of folk, bluegrass, country, and rock remains intact, as does its emphasis on crafting songs that demonstrate its collectively agile abilities. The differences, then, are subtle ones, and these take root within the presentation of the material as well as through the influences that the ensemble chooses to spotlight. Likewise, there is an increasing maturity to be found within the bandís typically solid lyrics, which predominately focus upon affairs of the heart, although familial passages as well as commentaries on the socio-political order of the world are never far from reach.
Not surprisingly, however, the advancements donít come without their share of growing pains, and although there are moments on The Good Life when Railroad Earth sounds better than it ever has, there also are periods of incredible awkwardness. In the Basementís father-son reflections tug at the heartstrings, but ultimately the song succumbs to its stream of sappy sentiments; the whirling instrumental Water Fountain Quicksand is a slice of bluegrass perfection, though it also unquestionably is ill-timed and saddled with an uncomfortable introduction; and much like similar excursions from George Harrisonís solo career, the pleasant fusion of blues and pop that graces the back-to-back mid-tempo tunes Said What You Mean and Way of the Buffalo falls flat and fails to find traction.
Thatís not to say that The Good Life is utterly devoid of merit ó itís not ó and in fact, the five songs that open the album most definitely rank among the finest of Railroad Earthís admittedly short career, even as they settle into a space that strikingly sounds like an Americanized version of The Waterboysí Fishermanís Blues. The sprightly bounce of Storms effortlessly conveys its lyricsí optimistic outlook; Bread and Water is a driving bluegrass-tinged rocker, full of fiery and frenzied instrumental interplay; Mourning Flies, with its surreal twists and turns, paints a deliriously strange dream sequence with splashes of color and light and is clearly the highlight of the collection; Long Way to Go wraps its bluegrass-based arms around an impassioned gospel-soul groove; and the title track, with its percolating rhythms, wonderfully relays the tale of a couple who drop out of big city life to return to living off the earth. Itís here, however, that The Good Life begins to go astray, and unfortunately, it isnít until the tender, lilting strains of íNeath the Stars, the albumís final credited track, that things fall back into their proper place. In other words, this is a transitional effort for Railroad Earth, one that finds the band stretching its wings and searching for something more, and although its quest is not always successful, the journey itself is sometimes an equally rewarding experience.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box