New Jersey-based Railroad Earth enters their third decade as a band, returning with "All For the Song," their first album since 2019's "Railroad Earth: The John Denver Letters." The new album marks a few firsts. It's produced by Swedish-NOLA songwriter/guitarist Anders Osborne and was the first time the band recorded away from home, in New Orleans. Also, this is the first effort since the passing of founding member Andy Goessling. In fact, his loss was a major reason to leave the distractions of home and get to a place with a more celebratory vibe.
The album has been incubating for some time as singles "The Great Divide," "It's So Good," and "Runnin' Wild" have been on the airwaves for over a year now. Ostensibly a bluegrass band due to instrumentation, but more of rock band in presentation, Railroad Earth is Todd Scheaffer (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Tim Carbone (violins, electric guitar, vocals), John Skehan (mandolin, bouzouki, piano, vocals), Cary Harmon (drums, percussion, vocals), and Andrew Altman (upright and electric bass). Given the New Orleans setting, the band easily gravitated toward incorporating blues harmonica, horns and Osborne's guitar.
The album begins with a tribute to Goessling in "The Great Divide," somewhere between an old-timey gospel and a contemporary meditation on death and what comes next. The opening line, "there's tellin' of a better home a-waitin', waitin' on the other side," sets the tone for the rest of the song, but not necessarily the album as "Blues Highway" takes on the rollicking energy of rolling down Highway 61 only to be caught in a vicious rainstorm. The horn driven "It's So Good" finds them in a celebratory mood before returning to another song about the elements, the epic "Showers of Rain," complete with a dreamy string section, an improvised jam and a wailing Osborne guitar spot.
Another lengthy tune is "Driftin'/The Bardo," one of the final recordings of Goessling on ukulele and high-strung guitar. The tune begins with gentle strums before cresting with piano and soaring strings, leaving a melancholy vibe of their friend's departure. The gorgeous, closing title track wraps up this myriad of emotions in a gentle, hopeful lyric "...all for the moment, all for the song." It's as if they want to move past their moments of silence and regather their energy to keep the music flowing, as well they should.