Railroad Earth is hitting the road hard this season, first bringing their unique sound to the South for a few highly anticipated shows that are sure to heat up these late-coming winter temperatures. The Poke Around spoke with fiddle player Tim Carbone last week about what can be expected from one of Railroad Earth’s infectious live performances.
“The show is never the same, they’re all like little fingerprints,” Carbone said. “So you can always expect us to play something, like a segue from one song to another that you’ve never heard before, because that’s what we like to do.”
Railroad Earth is comprised of many different musical influences and talents, making for a one-of-a-kind style that relies on exceptional songwriting and fiery improvisation that has evolved after touring together since the early 2000s. With a firm base in bluegrass, the band integrates their different folk and rock backgrounds to create improvisational music that transcends classification. Todd Sheaffer is the man with the plan, writing and singing most of the songbook with an unrivaled feel for the spirit of the stories he tells. These stories are propelled by the virtuosic instrumental section of Tim Carbone (fiddle), John Skehan (mandolin), and Andy Goessling (multi-instrumentalist). Carbone explained to The Poke Around just how it all comes together to create Railroad Earth:
“I’m fond of saying I’m not really a bluegrass fiddle player, I just play one on TV,” Carbone said in reference to his unconventional style of playing that “comes from a blues/rock point of view, that has a swing to it.” This is a result of learning the instrument in a blues band, as opposed to most of the classically-trained violinists in bluegrass these days.
Andy Goessling, the “multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire” originally played clarinet, saxophone, and flute but comes from a folk tradition as well. “He’s well-versed in bluegrass, though,” Carbone pointed out. “Matter of fact, he’ll quote you chapter and verse and he’ll teach you how to do it.” The lyrical style of the horns shines through even when Goessling switches up to the banjo, guitar and dobro throughout a show.
A classically trained piano player, John Skehan primarily plays mandolin with the band, in a way that Carbone says it’s easy to tell he is a “huge lover of bluegrass and a student of the form.” But his approach still comes from that classical training as well as a deep-rooted Irish musical influence.
“Andy, John and I are all big fans of Irish music, so there’s always going to be a Celtic connection with the three of us. So we’re the instrumentalists in the band,” Carbone explained. The rock element comes from Andrew Altman on upright and electric bass and Carey Harmon holding down the drums and percussion. Carbone also picks up the electric guitar sometimes, emphasizing that even though he wants to “just fucking crush it,” because it is such a powerful instrument, he has to tone it down to keep up with the “Railroad Earth approach.”
With Sheaffer providing most of the extraordinary songbook, “we’re using our playing ability and style and what we do to frame those songs, then everything we do is essentially in service to those songs. When you put all that together, you got Railroad Earth. What the hell is that? I don’t know.”
Railroad Earth can be caught this weekend all around the area, kicking things off at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on January 14th and 15th. Then on Saturday the band makes their first return to Asheville in more than two years for a sold-out show at The Orange Peel. On Tuesday they’ll be supporting the wildly popular Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia.
Written by Richard Oakley