There’s a great scene in The Last Waltz – the documentary about The Band’s final concert – where director Martin Scorsese is discussing music with drummer/singer/mandolin player Levon Helm. Helm says, “If it mixes with rhythm, and if it dances, then you’ve got a great combination of all those different kinds of music: country, bluegrass, blues music, show music…”
To which Scorsese, the inquisitive interviewer, asks, “What’s it called, then?”
“Rock & roll!”
Clearly looking for a more specific answer, but realizing that he isn’t going to get one, Marty laughs. “Rock & roll…”
Well, that’s the way it is sometimes: musicians play music, and don’t necessarily worry about where it gets filed. It’s the writers, record labels, managers, etc., who tend to fret about what “kind” of music it is.
And like The Band, the members of Railroad Earth aren’t losing sleep about what “kind” of music they play – they just play it. When they started out in 2001, they were a bunch of guys interested in playing acoustic instruments together. As Railroad Earth violin/vocalist Tim Carbone recalls, “All of us had been playing in various projects for years, and many of us had played together in different projects. But this time, we found ourselves all available at the same time.”
Songwriter/lead vocalist Todd Sheaffer continues, “When we started, we only loosely had the idea of getting together and playing some music. It started that informally; just getting together and doing some picking and playing. Over a couple of month period, we started working on some original songs, as well as playing some covers that we thought would be fun to play.” Shortly thereafter, they took five songs from their budding repertoire into a studio and knocked out a demo in just two days. Their soon-to-be manager sent that demo to a few festivals, and – to the band’s surprise – they were booked at the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival before they’d even played their first gig. This prompted them to quickly go in and record five more songs; the ten combined tracks of which made up their debut album, “The Black Bear Sessions.”
That was the beginning of Railroad Earth’s journey: since those early days, they’ve gone on to release five more critically acclaimed studio albums and one hugely popular live one called, “Elko.” They’ve also amassed a huge and loyal fanbase who turn up to support them in every corner of the country, and often take advantage of the band’s liberal taping and photo policy. But Railroad Earth bristle at the notion of being lumped into any one “scene.” Not out of animosity for any other artists: it’s just that they don’t find the labels very useful. As Carbone points out, “We use unique acoustic instrumentation, but we’re definitely not a bluegrass or country band, which sometimes leaves music writers confused as to how to categorize us. We’re essentially playing rock on acoustic instruments.”
Ultimately, Railroad Earth’s music is driven by the remarkable songs of front-man, Todd Sheaffer, and is delivered with seamless arrangements and superb musicianship courtesy of all six band members. As mandolin/bouzouki player John Skehan points out, “Our M.O. has always been that we can improvise all day long, but we only do it in service to the song. There are a lot of songs that, when we play them live, we adhere to the arrangement from the record. And other songs, in the nature and the spirit of the song, everyone knows we can kind of take flight on them.” Sheaffer continues: “The songs are our focus, our focal point; it all starts right there. Anything else just comments on the songs and gives them color. Some songs are more open than others. They ‘want’ to be approached that way – where we can explore and trade musical ideas and open them up to different territories. But sometimes it is what the song is about.”
So: they can jam with the best of them and they have some bluegrass influences, but they use drums and amplifiers (somewhat taboo in the bluegrass world). What kind of music is it then? Mandolin/vocalist John Skehan offers this semi-descriptive term: “I always describe it as a string band, but an amplified string band with drums.” Tim Carbone takes a swing: “We’re a Country & Eastern band! ” Todd Sheaffer offers “A souped-up string band? I don’t know. I’m not good at this.” Or, as a great drummer/singer/mandolin player with an appreciation for Americana once said: “Rock & roll!”
Cornmeal has never been a band to shy away from reinvention and after over 15 years, they are proving just that as the band sets out with a reformed lineup, fresh energetic sound and a long awaited first studio album in over 9 years. A nationally recognized live music institution, Cornmeal is heavily influenced by American roots and folk music and seamlessly blends lightning fast tempos and impeccable harmonies into an unrivaled live performance that continues to expand upon the five-piece acoustic-electric groups’ vast musical repertoire. While steeped in the tradition of the past, Cornmeal continues to forge a path all their own, pushing the boundaries of bluegrass, Americana and folk for a whole new generation of music lovers. With a growing fan base and ever-evolving sound, Cornmeal challenges the recipe of bluegrass and live performance. After many false starts the long awaited studio album, Slow Street, was released May 29th, 2015. The new record features 10 original tracks and a host of guests musicians including Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass on dobro. Recorded in Chicago the album clocks in at over 60 minutes of acoustic/electric landscapes and improvised jams. Balancing the energy and feel of a their one of a kind live shows with the articulation and precision of studio production, Slow Street is an album that was well worth waiting for.
With songs like Rise Above and All Things Must Change, the album pays homage to the last few years of change with a complex maturity well beyond anything we have seen from the band since their last studio release, Feet First, back in 2006. WIth masterful musicianship, a deep understanding of melody and time, and a more focused sound, Slow Street runs the gamut of the Americana sound with everything from light and delicate to gritty, deep and psychedelic. With the release of their debut album “In The Kitchen” (2001 Livin’ Live records), Cornmeal secured its place as one of the top bands in its genre. 2003’s “Tales from Magic Stone Mountain” (Livin’ Live records) garnered much critical attention and became a staple on College and AAA top 10 lists throughout the country. In May of 2006, Cornmeal released their third album, “Feet First”, which became proof positive that Cornmeal’s tenure on the road brought on an honest and mature sound. Produced by former guitarist Kris Nowak and bassist Chris Gangi, “Feet First” features a strong confidence in songwriting, musicianship and the ability of this band to stylistically ride the fence and bring it back home without missing a step.
In the beginning of 2010, Cornmeal released their first live album, “Live in Chicago, IL Vol. I” (2010 Livin’ Live Records), an album that pays tribute to the fans. Towards the end of 2011, Cornmeal released the follow up, “Live in Chicago, IL Vol. II” (2011 Livin’ Live Records). During this time the band went into the studio set to record their first album in over 5 years. Self produced by bassist Chris Gangi and tracked in Chicago at the prestigious Rax Trax recording studios, the process was cut short due to lineup changes and the album was shelved. After almost a year of auditions, rehearsals and wood shedding new material the band is poised to return to the same recording space to finish the album polishing the old material and setting forward with a new sound, new songs and a fresh perspective on the future. While playing a blend of high profile venues, jam-band and bluegrass festivals to thousands nationally, Cornmeal has been a main stage act at some of the most renowned festivals in the country. These festivals include Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Magnolia Fest, Wakarusa Music Festival, and Summer Camp Music Festival as well as having performed on multiple stages at Bonnaroo, All Good Music Festival, High Sierra Music Festival, 10K Lakes, and many others. They pride themselves on the energy they put forth each night creating an unrivalled live performance that continues to shape itself into an energetic one of a kind experience. “Live in Chicago, IL Vol. I & II” prove that Cornmeal continues to be a band to watch out for. Every show they play is a unique experience that leaves fans begging for more.
Friday, Jan 29th
$25 Day Of
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