Those who describe the music of Railroad Earth as “jamgrass” are to be forgiven. After all, the band’s sound is often dominated by a front line of mandolin, fiddle and acoustic guitar, and their improvisational savvy definitely puts them in jam-band territory. But that guitar is amplified, there’s a cracking-good drummer, and their songs—mostly written by singer/guitarist Todd Sheaffer—draw on a bounty of influences, from Americana to Celtic to African. Their latest studio effort, Last of the Outlaws, is eclectic, ambitious and sounds great to boot.
The album was cut at engineer Dean Rickard’s solar-powered studio in western New Jersey, where the band hails from. “Dean’s like a tech hippie,” says RE fiddler and professed “recording geek” Tim Carbone. “He’s soft-spoken, Zen-like. But he’s got a helluva studio, with 20-foot ceilings and a drum room and great gear—excellent preamps and a lot of tube stuff.” Much of the basic tracking was live, though there was also overdubbing at Rickard’s place and Carbone’s home studio, of such varied instruments as B-3, electric guitar and bass clarinet. “We have a bunch of colors in our paint box,” Carbone says, “and on this record we used more of them than usual.”
A couple of different mixers tried their hand with the album before Ted Hutt at Kingsize Soundlabs in L.A. won over the group with his effort. “You can’t put the whole kitchen sink in there because it’s going to sound cluttered,” Carbone says. “Our mixer really understood that and managed to create more clarity by bringing instruments in and out judiciously.”