A few days into 2019, Tim Carbone boarded the shuttle train to the airport in New Jersey on his way to record Railroad Earth’s ninth album.
Jan. 31 | 7:30 p.m.
MontBleu Resort Casino | Stateline, Nev.
“When I was 14 years old, I went into a record store, perusing the blues section,” says the virtuoso violinist about his early introduction to the world of rock ‘n’ roll. “It was 1969 and I was listening to records by Freddie King and Lightnin’ Hopkins. I started looking at this record by a violin player named Sugarcane Harris. There was a picture of this black dude. You could see his face and body, but his arms and hands were a border of blurry violin. I bought the record and it really opened my mind.”
“There are elements of bluegrass, country, jazz, classical and Celtic music. We have drums, keyboard, electric bass and guitar added into the band. I’d have say it’s rock ‘n’ roll.” –Tim Carbone
The album Carbone is referencing is none other than Don “Sugarcane” Harris’s eponymous debut the cover of which features a photo of Harris with a woman’s wig reflected in the mirror of what can only be described as a small room with weathered off-white walls.
If you’ve ever seen Carbone let loose on a cresting solo at a Railroad Earth concert, you’d know that his own curly grey-white hair will at times soar in the breeze as if on the melody of some divinely written tune.
“It’s total surrender,” he says. “I have just enough technique and ability, so I don’t have to think. I unhinge. I let something else take over. It’s a symbiotic relationship with the universe.”
Carbone’s family roots come from the Garden State, which is, unbeknownst to many, a surprisingly fertile land for contemporary bluegrass music.
“Newgrass has its roots in New Jersey,” says Carbone “David Grisman is from Red Bank, Tony Trischka is originally from Orange. One bluegrass band that was the first to make their living off playing rock ‘n’ roll pop covers turned into bluegrass was called The Seldom Scene. They were from Washington, D.C. Tony Trischka gave lessons to Béla Fleck before he was in New Grass Revival. And the guy who started it at all with his melodic style of playing was Bill Keith from Woodstock, N.Y. This [region] was the petri dish, so to speak.”
When Railroad Earth formed in Stillwater, N.J., in 2001, the musicians involved were already well-seasoned troubadours. Carbone toured the East and Gulf coasts for 15 years with multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling in Blue Sparks from Hell.
“When we started [Railroad Earth], we made a demo and our agent at the time sent it around,” says Carbone. “One of the people he sent it to was Craig Ferguson from Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I guess we hit him a on a good day because that was only like our tenth gig.”
Railroad Earth has since found fans around the nation, especially in the Sierra Nevada with the success of their annual Halloween-themed Hangtown Music Festival and repeatedly sold-out appearances at Crystal Bay Casino and WinterWonderGrass.
This month they drive this train of many colors to the Showroom at MontBleu Resort Casino to play a high-energy, danceable music that is hopeless to define.
“I’ve been spending a lot time trying to actually codify that and I’ve realized that it’s kind of impossible,” says Carbone. “There are elements of bluegrass, country, jazz, classical and Celtic music. We have drums, keyboard, electric bass and guitar added into the band. I’d have say it’s rock ‘n’ roll.”
Railroad Earth lost longtime member Goessling on Oct. 12, 2018, to cancer.
“We’ve gone along the best we could just trying to survive the whole situation,” says Carbone of the band’s run of shows in the Pacific Northwest to close out 2018. “There’ll always be a void there, a little hole that will never go away. We haven’t replaced Andy yet, but we’ve had some other good players who are friends come in and help us out. We’ll figure it out as we go along.”
“It’s our first record without Andy,” says Carbone. “A couple of the songs I’ve put into the mix I demoed with Andy, so his parts are on there. There is a possibility he will be represented somehow or some way.”
Railroad Earth takes it name from the dreamy, sentimental Jack Kerouac prose poem “October in the Railroad Earth.”
“There’s a Buddhist saying: ‘Time of death uncertain; practice dharma today,’ ” says Carbone. “The whole goal is to make the best record possible.” | montbleuresort.com