There’s quite an interesting progressive bluegrass scene in and around the Rocky Mountains these days, thanks in part to Planet Bluegrass and its festivals like Telluride and Rockygrass. One of the most recent bluegrass-tinged bands to emerge from the Colorado Rockies is the Boulder-based group The Railsplitters, who also were the winners of the 2013 Rockygrass band competition. Their debut self-titled album offers listeners a fresh, modern take on bluegrass, and although they seem to have many of the same folk, pop, and old-time influences as lots of other new groups, their sound is definitely unique.
The bulk of the twelve songs are band originals. Jackson Town, the opening track, was written by guitarist Lauren Stovall as an ode to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. The number has a fun, old-timey sound, and is reminiscent of something that might have been popular in the 1920s. Stovall also sings lead here, adding a swingy flair to the song, and bassist Leslie Ziegler adds a fun bass solo in the middle.
Stovall’s vocals are also featured on No Stranger to the Blues, another upbeat number, but this time with more of a grassy sound. Mandolin player Peter Sharpe wrote this song, which has lyrics pulled straight from traditional bluegrass, with the singer tired of listening to others’ problems when she has plenty of issues in her own life. The lyrics of Ziegler’s composition Blue Moon also seem to take a page from classic bluegrass. As in Bill Monroe’s iconic number, there’s a blue moon shining down, and a singer who’s been done wrong, though in keeping with several other songs here, there’s a swingy feel behind the bluegrass instrumentation.
Boarding Pass (That’s the Way It Is), a wistful reminiscence from someone who still has questions about an old romance, has a lilting, country-folk sound. The pedal steel, courtesy of banjo player Dusty Rider (who also wrote the song), is a nice touch. Where You Are has a similar feel, and finds the singer wishing she could rearrange the United States to be with the one she loves. Anyone who has ever struggled with being a few hundred miles too many from their significant other will be able to relate to this yearning appeal.
Two songs here will be familiar to most bluegrass fans. Randall Hylton’s Room at the Top of the Stairs is given a moody, mysterious feel, particularly in the intro. Though this version sticks fairly close to other standard bluegrass treatments of the song, the lead vocals seem to pull a bit from rock power ballads. Lonesome Feeling, on the other hand, is bouncy and upbeat thanks to Rider’s banjo, with a straightforward approach (though the phrasing is a little different than previous cuts of the song).
The group gets to show off their musical skills on the album’s original instrumentals, Evil Apple, Long’s Peak, and Spray. All three are certainly well done, with a nice progressive bluegrass sound and an energy behind them that ensures that The Railsplitters live show would be entertaining and a treat for fans of adventurous bluegrass. Rider’s banjo particularly stands out on these tunes.
Flatt and Scruggs, this album is not. However, in today’s (mostly) accepting bluegrass world, many fans won’t care. The Railsplitters are talented, with well-written songs and spot-on instrumentation. This album is a nice addition to the ever-growing progressive bluegrass field.
For more information on The Railsplitters, visit their website at www.therailsplitters.com. Their album can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers.