Railroad Earth to hold CD release party for Amen Corner in Denver

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:: Railroad Earth ::
:: Ogden :: Theater :: June 13 and 14 ::

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By Dustin Huth

Every place on the face of the planet has its own character. Some are powerful and impressive and people travel from all over to see them and spend time in them and take pictures to show that they’ve been to them. Other places have a character that is more subtle and intimate, but equally beautiful. Places like that don’t get traveled to much. They just go on being there quietly, lending a feeling of home to the few who happen upon them.

In the woods of rural New Jersey along the Appalachian Trail, there is a place with just such a sense of home. It is the 300-year-old colonial farmhouse of Railroad Earth’s Todd Sheaffer, and it is where the band’s fifth album, Amen Corner, was recorded.

“It was a new approach,” said Sheaffer from his breezy front porch during a telephone interview with The Marquee. “We’ve always recorded in a commercial studio before, and this time we recorded in my home studio.”

In part, the progressive bluegrass band decided to record there because they knew they could avoid the unnatural sense of urgency that sometimes exists in studios for hire. In part, it was to more naturally achieve that home-grown feel that has come to characterize the band’s sound.

“I think the album is very intimate, and you get a feeling that you are in somebody’s living room listening to them play, because that’s exactly what it was,” said Sheaffer. “I love the intimacy of it,” he continued, “and I love the feeling of being invited into somebody’s room, and hopefully it evokes a nice evening — hopefully everyone has a nice time there.”

Probably the seven-year-old band’s most solid and well-composed album to date, Amen Corner, which will be released on June 10, 2008 through SCI Fidelity Records, is a complex combination of traditional bluegrass and acoustic roots music with undertones of jazzy improvisation throughout, held together with a fiddle string and Sheaffer’s smooth, yet timbre-shifting and rustic vocal presence.

Not only did the comfort of the rural plot effect the family-jam-style creative spontaneity that is present in the recorded versions of the songs, but it also was the inspiration for a number of melodies and lyrics as the songs were being conceived.

Perhaps the best example of this is the song “Lonecroft Ramble,” which was named for the property, which is known as “Lonecroft.” It was written by Railroad Earth multi-instrumentalist and vocalist John Skehan. “The melody and the tune came into his head while he was rambling around the grounds where we were recording,” said Sheaffer. “He was taking a little ramble and started whistling it while he was hiking, and then he was able to come in and work it out on the mandolin as a tune … I think that the place has a lot to do with the kind of things that you write and the kind of melodies that come through you, and I think it’s undeniable,” said Sheaffer.

But that’s not to say that every song on the album is a direct description of the property. “We have sort of an earthy sound to us and an organic mood as a band. Not all of our songs are named for a particular stream or a river or for a place like Bill Monroe songs, where you can pretty much tell where he was by the title of the song,” said Sheaffer.

Part of what people identify with about Railroad Earth comes from the chemistry that the members have as a band. In order for a group of musicians to convey such a strong atmosphere in the form of music, their musicianship has to be solid both as individuals and as a functioning part of the group as a whole.

“We were lucky to have hit upon a group of players and musicians that understand that feeling, and we’re not just there to play the right notes, we’re also there to connect to that energy and know when it’s there,” said Sheaffer. “So I think it’s a result of players who are tuned in to each other, and tuned in to that feeling.”

As the band tours behind its new album, it will be holding its two-night CD release party here in Colorado at Denver’s Ogden Theatre. “When we get to the Ogden,” said Sheaffer, “we’re going to try to create an uplifting place. An uplifting mood and atmosphere where folks can feel the spirit come alive and hopefully elevate.”

And just as they did during the recording, Railroad Earth is inviting all of its friends to come into “the living room” and be a part of the experience. Some of its friends will actually be on stage.

“These are our CD release shows, so we’re trying to make them extra special,” said Sheaffer. “We have actually a number of special additions planned, and our lighting engineer, Alex, is working up a special Amen Corner stage set. And we have some guests coming in to help us out with all kinds of stuff—some folks who are in town, and some local folks from Denver who are going to help us out.

:: Railroad Earth ::
:: Ogden :: Theater :: June 13 and 14 ::
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