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Railroad Earth are back on the rails!

With a new album and expanded lineup, the bluegrass-infused act Railroad Earth are back on the road with a deeper sound and the enthusiasm of a brand new band. Columnist Ray Chelstowski of Goldmine's Natural Funk Projekt spoke with drummer Carey Harmon about why this record and this tour are things you won't want to miss.

By Ray Chelstowski

For over 20 years Railroad Earth have been making remarkable studio records and bringing them to life through endless, electrified live performances. In 2018 they lost founding member and lifelong friend Andy Goessling to cancer and the band’s future was said to be in question. That changed when they decided to travel to New Orleans and work with Anders Osborne on a new record. This was a cathartic experience. All of their studio records had previously been cut in New Jersey, the place they call home. Instead, this southern pilgrimage placed them squarely in a musical epicenter that would infuse their writing and inspire them to stretch just outside their margins. The result is a musical expression that may be the band’s best yet. All for the Song, has remarkable balance, a heightened “bottom,” and it tracks with a pacing that fairly pushes and pulls. It’s something meant to be played wire to wire, and many of the tracks have expansive live potential.

The band (Todd Sheaffer, Tim Carbone, John Skehan, Carey Harmon and Andrew Altman) have added fire power to their line up with keyboardist Matt Slocum. His talent and career work with an expansive roster of A-list acts brings great dimension to their sound. He adds the kind of depth to their work that fans will really want to experience live.

We caught up with drummer Carey Harmon about how the passing of his bandmate drove the creative process that resulted in this stunning new record, and learned much more about his thoughts on the road ahead for Railroad Earth.

Goldmine: I assume title track is about the loss of your bandmate, Andy Goessling?

Carey Harmon: I think it is. To me that song is really about the whole adventure. It’s about the ups and downs and everything you go through being together for 20 years in a band. There obviously was no bigger event during that time than losing Andy. But like the song says there were probably so many times we should have died. (laughs) The song just has that feeling of being at the bar late night as it’s about to close and a guy sitting there says, “Come on over. Do I have a story to tell you?” That’s what I take from it.

GM: What was it like entering the studio without him?

CH: It was terrifying. Number one, he could play like five instruments on any track. But even more than that, a band is a molecular thing. When you start to take pieces out it affects everything. Every discussion, every creative decision, Andy brought to them a very particular voice. We all do. So it was very strange. But I’m so glad that we did because it’s exactly what he would have done. It really forced us to deal with losing him, and a record came out of it. I think we are all still here and close because of it.

Railroad Earth. Photo by Liina Raud.

Railroad Earth. Photo by Liina Raud.

GM: The song “Driftin’ — the Bardo – Driftin’” is what’s so great about jam. You present so many clever influences through really seamless breaks. It includes a final recording from Andy, correct?

CH: Yeah. It was very cool because Tim and Andy had worked on something a few years back. It was just a session or two and Andy had laid down what were the guitar parts. After we had put down a couple of tracks in New Orleans we pulled that up. We just played to it and essentially built a tune around his part. If you notice, there’s a section in the song where we each kind of take a very brief solo and it’s almost like a little bit of a “dance with Andy one more time” kind of thing. We all got chills from it.

GM: You call this your “Destination Album,” having always recorded close to home. What inspired the move to New Orleans?

CH: We are on the road so much that when we record we don’t want another reason to have to be away. So when you do start thinking of places that you can go, New Orleans quickly becomes one of my first choices. But it was our manager’s idea, actually. He also manages Anders and he thought that Anders’ spirit could bring the five producers that are in the band together and make something. It worked. We spent only a few weeks there and it was a very communal New Orleans experience.

GM: This record definitely has a good amount of Anders’ touch and delivers a lot more “bottom” that your previous work.

CH: I agree. I think that the band has developed more “bottom.” It sort of coincides with having Matt Slocum with us now. Now there are two risers and I’m sitting next to a Leslie and a Hammond. It’s like sitting on the runway. It’s big and the band’s sound instantly changed when he joined us. The record actually ties into that a little bit. It’s more of how the band sounds now so it’s nice to have them both come together.

GM: When you add a talent like Matt to the lineup what direction do you give him?

CH: You just let him loose. He’s so musical that that isn’t an issue. What we do is make sure that at least at one point every night there’s a chance for Matt to explode and just do his thing. The chops are just so deep. He doesn’t show them all of the time but when he does he can really pull some licks out.

GM: The single “Come & Go Moon” has a real Little Feat vibe. Was that the result of being in New Orleans?

CH: The song didn’t sound like that in its original version. It really did come from being where we were and finding that interpretation in the moment. It was very much a treatment that was influenced by being there. It could have gone a number of different ways but turned out like it did because of where we were at.

GM: What’s it been like being back out on the road?

CH: It’s getting there. The first gig we did was in January and that was a little more complicated. What we have found though is that the energy is great. We’ve just been so anxious to get this lineup out there. We have had a lot of pent up energy and are finding that the audiences are really glad to be there as well. There’s a really busy summer ahead, and I look forward to being outside doing a bunch of shows. This line up just needs to get in front of people. Twenty years into this band, I’m more excited about it now than I have ever been. It’s a good place to be! 


Goldmine's Natural Funk Projekt is a weekly column about Jam Bands by Ray Chelstowski.