MUSIC BOX: Split Rails and Acoustic Trails
Boulder’s The Railsplitters touch down at Silver Dollar Showroom.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – Having a banjo, mandolin, upright bass, and fiddle in your band was once synonymous with the genre of bluegrass. In some rural pockets of the country that homogenous assumption remains fairly intact. Though for the most part, traditional bluegrass bands are a thing of the past. Modern day musicians soak in influences from a wider spectrum. Intricate acoustic music a la Crooked Still or David Grisman along with Americana-grass or jamgrass are common off-shoots, and the blend of personalities and backgrounds are integral to the musical chemistry.
Boulder-based quintet The Railsplitters exist in a branch of string music that underlines vocal harmony, space for instruments to breath, and a song-based approach that sometimes blurs the traces of its bluegrass roots. Listening preferences of its members seemingly come from contradicting sources, though these three ladies and two guys have found solid ground.
“The Punch Brothers have been a huge influence for me, especially while we we’re putting out our first record,” said Railsplitters banjo player and songwriter Dusty Rider. “My influences after that have varied. During the second album, I was listening to Gorillaz and some of that definitely crept in. Lately I’ve even been getting into house and electronic music. But I got into bluegrass in middle school when I started playing banjo, and I was exclusive with it for some time. Leslie takes influence from 50s songwriters and Buddy Holly is one of her favorites.”
The five-piece took home first place at the Rockygrass Best New Band Competition in 2015 and got busy touring the U.S. The distinctly clear voice of guitarist Lauren Stovall is the building block that is surrounded by three- and four-part vocal harmony, which further enhances a collectively tight, innovative sound that can grow powerful.
“I remember there being a really natural blend when we were first started singing and playing, really from the onset,” Rider said. “Once we started writing more and Leslie started singing, the parts worked out where there wasn’t room for vocals on top. But even on the first record, our producer Aaron Youngbird gave us some pointers on how to blend better as an ensemble and we just kind of ran with that. We occasionally have four- and five-part harmonies.”
The Railsplitters have a Colorado denominator, a regional sound that can be traced back to the Centennial State’s progressive stringband onslaught of the last two decades. The fertile environment is supportive and readily available in an informal setting.
“One of the biggest reasons The Railsplitters was able to form was because of the jam sessions, the jam circuit if you will,” Rider explained of Colorado’s melting pot. “Not the Yonder Mountain or Greensky Bluegrass style of jam, but just a bunch of folks getting together. There’s a good scene in here. In our case, it was a mutual friend that had a pickin’ party and that’s where I met Pete (mandolin), and Lauren and Leslie (upright bass) would come every once in a while. That’s where the core four got started. It still happens everywhere, every night of the week within a 30-mile radius. And then you’ve got a lot of starter venues, like breweries, where you can make a little money and try out your songs on an audience. There are a lot of people around Colorado that just like music, regardless of what it is.”
The 2017 Railsplitters album, Jump In!, is due this fall though you can get a preview of new material from its live Daytrotter session from February, or check out the band’s first two studio albums—The Faster it Goes (2015) and The Railsplitters (2013).
The Railsplitters, 7:30 to 11 p.m. Thursday, April 6 at the Silver Dollar Showroom, free. 307-732-3939. PJH
Aaron Davis is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, audio engineer at Three Hearted Studio, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.
Vinyl Night (The Rose)
The Railsplitters (Silver Dollar)
Pam Drews Phillips (The Granary), Wildflower Moon (Trap Bar),
Misfit Moonshiners (Under the Tram), Jon E. Boothe Band (Silver Dollar)
Sneaky Pete & the Secret Weapons (Under the Tram), Aaron Davis & the Mystery Machine (Silver Dollar), Open Mic (Pinky G’s)
One Ton Pig (Silver Dollar)