Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Matt Oliver, Mastered by Sam Patlove
As much as we look to be set at ease, to feel as if we can all get above the murkiness, escape through the smog and the fray, we're often faced with the reality that we're in this until we die and no one gets out alive or unscathed. We are constantly bombarded with warning shots and hot metal glancing off our legs and shoulders, just enough to bring us down, just enough to subdue us, to take the spit out of us. Stillwater, New Jersey, band Railroad Earth, known in most circles as a jam and improvisational band, does not peddle feel-good vibes. It is here to suggest to us that the dream is over. It is here to warn us that we should always have an exit plan - know where the closest door or window is and what belongings we'll be taking with us when the instant arrives that we need to split. Even if we're staying, we'll be staying somewhere that doesn't have our best interests in mind. We're living amongst the vultures and we're pushing against the forces of nature with every motion we make. We are not the chosen beings for this world, but we're here and we're doing what we can with it.
Through many of the stories that Railroad Earth singer and songwriter Todd Sheaffer writes, there's a new, bleary-eyed realization that hits like a ton of bricks: time has been lost, things have changed irrevocably and even those we love and trust should be examined with a close eye for it is still the survival of the fittest and that has never changed. Sheaffer shapes a world, lyrically, that is filled with wolves and lambs, lions and gazelles, as well as a believe that we need to move along. He sings about it being "the same old story, but now the story's mine," as if all that he's read about or been told has suddenly manifested itself into his existence to deal with. These are loose logs, traveling, roaming songs of centuries-gone philosophical struggles. They feel like overalls and old, but comfortable shoes, hardened hands and eyes with significant bags pulling them toward those old shoes.
Railroad Earth music is about finding home and then leaving home, being pushed out of the house and then forced to stand on your own two legs. It's being disillusioned with what home or the past used to be, in younger eyes. They are songs about firing up the diesel and taking off, for who knows where, just to clear the mind, with a rumbling trail of sound and a crinkling of scattering gravel and dust. There are those times that we feel like the hero and the observer that Sheaffer describes in the brilliant prose of "Too Much Information," "So much for the legend and his dignity/Pulled off like a skin and thrown away/Now I join the people in the bloody lust/Staring at the horrible display/Too much information/Now my heart is breaking/I don't want to see you fall/Too much information/Now my heart is breaking/I don't want to watch you crawl," doomed to be the casualty or part of the gawking party, unable to turn away. Railroad Earth give us the gruesome world, but the soften the corners for us, bracing us for the disturbing feelings we might encounter.