Runaway Freight is a Tennessee-based band that has been in existence since December 2003. The band comprises Chris Smith (banjo and vocals), Justin Ford (Dobro ¬Æ and vocals), Matt Ford (guitar and dulcimer, vocals) and Sam Morgan (upright bass and vocals). Their usual stomping ground is Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, where they have performed at the two largest fairs for three years in a row.
They have two albums of secular material in addition to their newest CD, Welcome Aboard (Switch Track Records RF 8099), an all-Gospel set.In their promotional material they describe themselves as having “a sound all of their own based in traditional and old time with undertones of today’s progressive bluegrass bands.” Matt Ford explains,
“Our vocal stylings are different according to who is singing lead on the song. We all sing lead at one time or another. My brother, Justin and I, use a lot of ‘Stanley brothers style’ when we sing harmony to each other, while Sam sings a low lead instead of bass or baritone on some of the songs which gives a unison sound.”
The CD presents a mixture of older ‘traditional’ Gospel material, like I Am A Pilgrim, the lead vocal sung by the inimitable Sam Morgan, Washed In The Blood with a brief break on the bass and some of the unison singing about which Matt Ford was speaking, and Meeting At the Building, another track which features a short bass break.
There are six original songs of which Chris Smith provides two songs, Streets Of Gold and Come As You Are, on both of which Smith sings a fine lead vocal. The ubiquitous Halls (Tom T. and Dixie) have supplied two songs – the title track and Good Ole Gospel Music. The former rattles along with the banjo setting the tempo from the beginning. There’s a sparkling guitar break giving a taste of a feature that is found to good effect on several tracks. Good Ole Gospel Music is a wonderful reminder of the type of song that found great favour at old camp meetings.
Miss Dixie’s Welcoming Tomb has also been recorded by Ralph Stanley II. Here Justin Ford gives a heartfelt rendition with neat harmonies on the choruses and what sounds like a bowed bass.
Mark Brinkman, assisted by Matt Ford, provides the rousing song He’s Always There with a call and response arrangement, and a very simple message – No matter how far you fall, run, hide, etc you will never be in a place where the love of Jesus isn’t with you. He is always there. The message is re-enforced with the knowledge that the collaboration took place via the Internet. Matt Ford, alone, wrote It Is God – inspired by the Book of Romans, 8:33 – it “is the scripture that I hold dear, it comforts me,” he confesses.
Ben Dillion’s Celebrate The Name Of Jesus builds with intensity during the instrumental breaks as Justin Ford calmly admits that he is so glad that He came into his life.
The band has devised an interesting arrangement for the sole instrumental, Amazing Grace. It is mostly bowed bass, accompanied by a drone D-tuned guitar with non-standard string sizes to produce a dulcimer-type sound, dulcimer and D-tuned banjo to create an ‘old world’ sound.
Close Encounters is a medley of I’ll Fly Away/I’m Gonna Let It Shine/Will The Circle Be Unbroken/Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/I’ll Fly Away with Morgan, Smith and Matt Ford sharing lead vocal responsibilities and excellent Dobro ¬Æ and lead guitar playing round off what is an appropriately rousing performance.
Overall Welcome Aboard is a mixture of traditional treatments and imaginative modern arrangements that grow more satisfying with each hearing.