Railroad Earth: Pickin’ Up A Storm (Relix Revisited)
Perched on a small hilltop at the end of the rock-riddled, half-mile path leading from the paved road to his front door, Sheaffer’s colonial home is unimpressive upon first glace. Inside, its exposed-beam ceilings, the 11-by-6-foot fireplace, and a grand piano introduce a scene ripped from the pages of Country Living. Bought from a friend not long before his previous band, From Good Homes, split, the house’s deed measures the property in links and chains, making note of a big cherry tree.
If you trust state wildlife officials, it’s an area overrun by the black bear—so much so that annual hunts are scheduled during which the mighty mammals are killed by sportsmen under the guise of increased safety. Sheaffer and longtime girlfriend Erin Mills see black bears often; they regularly wake to the sight of deer chomping on fallen apples, and witness flocks of wild turkeys and the occasional fox whisking by. Here, some 60 miles from Manhattan, the nighttime sky glows with starlight. When it snows, the U-shaped driveway becomes an impassable icy slope.
In his seven years here, this wooded patch of central Jersey has proven a songwriter’s paradise for Sheaffer. He wrote “Storms,” the leadoff track on The Good Life, after watching shower after shower pummel the countryside outside his windows. “Mourning Flies” remembers an ill possum that inched out of the woods one day, and was later pecked apart by circling birds who hawkeyed its slow expiration. One day, a black bear literally ambled by as he and Skehan were—no lie—right in the middle of the future Railroad Earth song “Black Bear.”
Back in the summer of 1999, after a decade together, the childhood friends comprising the band From Good Homes decided to move on. Part of the early ‘90s New York/Jersey scene that birthed breakthroughs for Blues Traveler and Joan Osborne—one-time openers for the band—FGH had booked a farewell show in Jersey for September, after three albums for RCA and countless headlining and supporting tours with everyone from Dave Matthews to RatDog, for whom they opened on the night Garcia died.
At the time, Sheaffer interest in bluegrass was growing. He bumped into Skehan at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and together they caught Tim O’Brien’s set. He was so impressed with O’Brien’s “Sing for Me” that he brought the song to FGH and the band closed out its career with it, encoring with the track at its farewell concert. In retrospective, it’s proven a wild hint at what was to come.
Over the next few years, as he penned his first solo record, Sheaffer began jamming at pickin’ sessions hosted by Skehan’s then-band, The Lost Ramblers, and later at Sunday afternoon song swaps at Goessling’s house. With Carbone, a sometime FGH collaborator and band mate of Goessling’s in the Blue Sparks From Hell, they started almost unintentionally at first working up the band’s earliest material. Eventually, it came time to find a drummer, and Carbone knew just the guy—a sympathetic player from Brooklyn named Carey Harmon, who, busy with other, local jobs, was merely up for an occasional gig or session. “I remember telling Tim, ‘Is this a band? This better not be a band, because I’m really happy with my life right now. I’ll do the recording, but this better not be a band.’”
“The French used to go to Ireland and conscript the young Irish in the bar—whack them over the head, and the next thing they know they’re on the battlefield,” chuckles Carbone. “That’s kind of what we did to Cary. The next thing you know we’re halfway across Kansas, and he’s like, ‘Where the hell am I?’”
Yet, with three-fifths of the group in their 40s, the older half of Railroad Earth has been playing long enough to know that great jam sessions, and even great recording sessions, don’t necessarily translate to a bona fide band. So it was with skepticism that they pressed forward: “Nobody thought when it was going to turn into a full-fledged, full-blown, buy-lots-of-equipment-and-leave-for-years-on-end band,” says Goessling. “It really just seemed like, ‘This will be cool for a while, maybe we’ll get some cool gigs, and fit our other stuff in, and write some songs.’”
The Howlin’ Brothers take to the Relix rooftop and share a song they wrote with Warren Haynes.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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