Written by guest reviewer Fumo Verde.
Fumo likes the bluegrass, along with the green. Through newer bands such as the Yonder Mountain String Band and Nickel Creek, I have heard the distinction between traditional and progressive bluegrass where percussion and extended jamming have become a part of the latter form. RRE blurring the line and bridging the gap.
Elko is a double-CD live set of songs and jams from their last three albums. If you would like to try something new in the way of bluegrass music, RRE could be your band. For those of you who may have heard of these cats already, you know what they can do.
Being a virgin to this new sound, “Long Way to Go (The Good Life)” was the cherry-popper for me, and oh, what a song. The roar of the crowd and the picking and tickling of the strings as they tune up makes way for a melody that sets you free as you listen to the story of a long way to go. This tune is a six minute and twenty-one second song that is the second shortest on these CDs, so these guys qualify as a “jam band”, believe me.
“Colorado (The Black Bear Sessions)” gives you more of a traveling feeling with its rolling banjo and sweet violin, but my favorite song off the first disc is “Bird in a House”, the title track off their second album. This song has a very “Dead” feel to it with as the drums keep the beat bumping along while the violin strolls along with the lyrics. “I want to sing my own song that’s all, cried the bird and flew into the wall” sounds goofy, but the words reflect a feeling that most of us at times can relate to: a desire to do your own thing even if the outcome will lead to failure. The mandolin and violin blend well together during the jam, but when the electric guitar kicks in, it produces a soothing Jerry Garcia feel as the riffs wander and express themselves.
The second disc starts off with the title track “Elko” with its beat clicking along and all the strings coming out to play, this song’s lyrics toss out images of the tired motel stuck in the middle of nowhere on some lonesome road.
“Like A Buddha” is a sixteen-minute jam that strings together elements of all aspects of this band’s talents. The plucking that starts it out, along with the cymbals tinkling away give a great lead-in to the flute that casually draws you in, Jethro Tull-like. Once again, there is the hint of Jerry when the electric guitar joins in. Off the second disc, this song is my favorite. The one political song on the second disc is “Warhead Boogie”, which also becomes a wandering jam that wanders for a little too long.
RRE shows their grand talents here on this CD, before a live audience and what makes them differ from other bluegrass bands can be described in one word: fullness. With a sound like bluegrass, usually the more simple it is, the more traditional it becomes, but with RRE, it’s the fullness of the instruments that gives way to the simplicity of what bluegrass is all about. RRE’s rhythm, along with its harmonies, holds the spirit of bluegrass while the dobro, the flute and electric guitar open up for the free ride that lets RRE take bluegrass and the listener to a whole new realm of what bluegrass can be.
So step right up and buy your ticket, cause Railroad Earth is leaving the station, and this train you don’t want to miss.
This is Fumo, saying, “All Aboard.”
Fumo Verde is a member of The Masked Music Snobs