Railroad Earth Band playing at Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival

September 23, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

HARRODSBURG - Among the six members of Railroad Earth is the ability to play more than a dozen different instruments, including unusual music-makers such as the bouzouki, harmonium, ukulele, penny whistle and marxophone. The group will perform this weekend at the Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival.

For his part, member John Skehan can play the mandolin, bouzouki, piano and Hammond organ. Information about the band calls its sound "jamgrass"; Skehan explains the sound somewhat differently.

"I go with the 'amplified string band with drums' kind of explanation of the sound and instrumentation," Skehan says. "There is a confusion with people that we're a bluegrass band, but I believe strongly that a bluegrass band has no percussion and amplification. We do have a drummer and do play amplified, so we're not bluegrass.

"We're essentially a string band, kind of in more of a rock context."

Skehan says his first instrument, in seventh or eighth grade, was the guitar.


"I was knocking around with friends in the garage, playing rock and roll," he notes.

Then he started taking piano lessons and switch to playing piano exclusively as well as studio piano performance and theory. Years later, Skehan drifted away from the piano back to a stringed instrument. "I took up the mandolin and never turned back," he says.

The Hammond organ, he explains, is an electronic organ that is attached to a certain type of rotating speaker. "The bass speaker and treble speakers spin around and you can control the speed of each," Skehan adds. "That is what gives the Hammond its sound - it's achieving vibrato."

The bouzouki, he says, is a Greek instrument similar to the mandolin, with eight strings and double courses, as a mandolin has. It has a bowl-back and has been adapted into Irish music.

The "real arsenal of instruments"

But the "real arsenal of instruments" for Railroad Earth comes from Andy Goessling, whose bio lists banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, penny whistle, bouzouki, saxophone, flute and marxophone among his music-makers. Goessling is one of the reasons the band is worth seeing.

"In the course of one show, he'll play banjo, guitar, mandolin, flute, clarinet, dobro, penny whistle, and sometimes two saxophones at the same time," Skehan explains. "Andy plays everything.

"There is a lot of instrumental work going on in support of the songs. This band has kind of a different sound ... And someone like Andy, who in one show, will play five different instruments, if not more, is certainly worth seeing."

Another reason people like seeing Railroad Earth play, Skehan says, has to do with the songs. "I think so far, at least in my experience, that the songs reached out to people - they stick with them," he explains. "There certainly is a positive energy to the songs. It is the material itself, separate from the individuals.

"The band in performance ... conveys that energy. It seems to get a favorable response."

The New Jersey band also includes Todd Sheaffer, vocals and guitar; Tim Carbone, violin, viola, piano, accordion, toy piano, harmonium, electric guitar, kaen and backing vocals; Carey Harmon, drums, percussion and backing vocals; and Johnny Grubb, bass.

New album released in June

Railroad Earth released a new album in June, "The Good Life," on Sugar Hill Records. That material will be performed at the harvest festival. "We're bringing to anyone who has heard our music some new songs they have not heard before," Skehan says. "We're gonna rock the joint - that's our plan, as always.

"We play primarily original music. It certainly has leanings toward the American roots music tradition, and we do cover a few traditional fiddle tunes. We've composed a few originals, and we occasionally play some obscure covers, such as 'Down the Old Plank Road.' We play music by artists ranging from Uncle Dave Macon to Uncle George Harrison."

Much of the song writing comes from Sheaffer, but everyone contributes to the songs, Skehan notes. "I write most of the original instrumentals, with help from Todd, Andy and Timmy," he adds.

The band continues to tour throughout September in support of "The Good Life," then begins a Western tour around mid-October before returning to New Jersey and the Northeast for the holidays.

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