A brother leaves this world too soon. A trip down U.S. Highway 61 ends in a deluge of biblical proportions. A retreat to the Big Easy results in its own flood of inspiration. A new chapter begins. These moments and many more fade in and out of focus on Railroad Earth’s new album, All For The Song.
The celebrated New Jersey quintet - Todd Sheaffer (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Tim Carbone (violins, electric guitar, vocals), John Skehan (mandolin, bouzouki, piano, vocals), Carey Harmon (drums, percussion, vocals), and Andrew Altman (upright & electric bass) - chronicle the twists and turns of this journey through eloquent songcraft, bluegrass soul, and rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
For over two decades, Railroad Earth have captivated audiences with gleefully unpredictable live shows and eloquent and elevated studio output. The group introduced its signature sound on 2001’s The Black Bear Sessions. Between selling out hallowed venues such as Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO, they’ve launched the longstanding annual Hangtown Music Festival in Placerville, CA and Hillberry: The Harvest Moon Festival in Ozark, AR, both running for a decade-plus. Sought after by legends, the John Denver Estate tapped them to put lyrics penned by the late John Denver to music on the 2019 vinyl EP, Railroad Earth: The John Denver Letters. Beyond tallying tens of millions of streams, the collective has earned widespread critical acclaim from David Fricke of Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, Glide Magazine, and NPR who assured, “Well-versed in rambling around, as you might expect from a band named after a Jack Kerouac poem, the New Jersey-built jam-grass engine Railroad Earth has let no moss grow under its rustic wheels.”
In 2018, Railroad Earth bid farewell to founding member Andy Goessling who passed away from cancer. His shadow loomed over the process as the guys retreated to New Orleans for the first time to record. The epic “Driftin’ The Bardo” hinges on one of the final recordings of Andy on ukulele and high-strung guitar. It slips into a poignant piano-driven crescendo punctuated by cinematic strings.
“As we were recording it, ‘The Bardo’ came to represent Andy’s transition,” reveals Tim. “It was an emotional experience.”
“From the beginning, the vision was more than just the music,” states Todd. “We looked at this like a ‘destination’ record. Our past records were all made close to home or, in fact, at home. Andy’s passing was very much in the center of our thoughts and our hearts in the writing and recording of this album. Things were so shaken up that we thought it’d be a benefit to go away from all of the distractions and be together. In New Orleans, there is great food and there are great spirits to be shared. I’ll leave the music part of the equation for others to judge, but we surely succeeded in making the bonding part of the vision come to fruition!”
Another first on All For The Song, they recorded with Anders Osborne behind the board as producer. It might’ve been the gumbo, but the guys seamlessly absorbed the homegrown flavors of the Big Easy by osmosis, incorporating horns, blues harmonica, and the producer’s own perspective and guitar playing.
“His enthusiasm is contagious,” exclaims Carey. “There are five producers in this band, so a strong-willed voice from the outside is usually pretty essential. Anders was the voice.”
Todd agrees, “He brought a pure and striving soul, unforgettable laugh, rich palette of emotion, a great stash of guitars and amps, philosophical driftings, freedom, unguarded honesty, warmth, and love.”
The album culminates on the wistful “All For The Song” as the final refrain, “All of the heartache, all that’s gone wrong, all for the moment, all for the song,” rings out before a harmonica passage.
“It’s a bit painful to contemplate or talk about, to be honest - as are a couple other tunes on this record,” confesses Todd. “The song says way more than enough, I believe.”
In the end, Railroad Earth brings listeners closer than ever on All For The Song.
“We want audiences to connect to the album,” Carey leaves off. “We hope they’re as moved by the music as we were making it.”