Railroad Earth singer Todd Sheaffer and Cabinet’s Dylan Skursky jam at Jazz Cafe in Plains on March 17
From a press release:
Todd Sheaffer, the lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist of New Jersey roots rock/Americana jam band Railroad Earth, will perform with upright bassist Dylan Skursky, formerly of Cabinet before the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre jamgrass band went on hiatus and currently of Gatos Blancos, at the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains on Saturday, March 17. Bethlehem bluegrass band Serene Green will open the show.
Doors at the Jazz Cafe (667 N. River St., Plains) open at 7 p.m., and the 21+ show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets, which are $10 in advance or $15 at the door, can be purchased online via HoldMyTicket.
In addition to touring with Railroad Earth in support of their latest EP release, “Captain Nowhere,” Todd Sheaffer continues his solo work, performances with various friends, and reunion concerts with his longtime friends and bandmates From Good Homes.
“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,” Sheaffer said of Railroad Earth. “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.””
Since their debut album, “The Black Bear Sessions,” came out in 2001, Railroad Earth have released a series of critically acclaimed studio albums and live recordings like “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 violinist/vocalist Tim 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 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.” Carbone takes a swing: “We’re a country and Eastern band!” Todd Sheaffer offers, “A souped-up string band? I don’t know. I’m not good at this.” Or maybe it’s just simply “rock ‘n’ roll.”
Cabinet released their latest album, “Cool River,” in October, giving fans one last studio recording to listen to before their hiatus, and several members are now involved in other musical endeavors, including solo projects from Pappy and JP Biondo and experimental Americana/funk/blues band Gatos Blancos, which features Skursky on bass.
Also, see photos of Gatos Blancos performing at the Jazz Cafe in January here and listen to guitarist Justin Mazer talk about the band, traveling the country as a touring musician, the Jazz Cafe’s importance to the local music scene, and more in Episode 40 of the NEPA Scene Podcast: