Railroad Earth

The Good Life

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For their third outing, Railroad Earth stretch the parameters of bluegrass even further than before -- to be more precise, they use the instrumentation in different contexts, as on "Mourning Flies," a song that wouldn't sound out of place on a Crowded House record, a wonderful little slice of thoughtful, intelligent pop music. But it's the songwriting that's the key to this album. After two discs discovering themselves and their sound, the guys are obviously ready to take a big leap. They've shed the country-rock stylings of the last record to produce songs that, while still lightly countrified, court a more popish arena, such as the sweet ballad "In the Basement." That's not to say they can't enjoy the kind of good, brisk breakdown they bring to "Water Fountain Quicksand," where they get to show their increasingly impressive chops. At times they're reminiscent of the Grateful Dead in the way they refused to be categorized while still making indubitably American music, while "Said What You Mean" is as good as anything the early Eagles ever wrote. While they continue to grow and keep using acoustic instrumentation, you have to wonder if it's just a matter of time before they need to expand their tonal colors even more to fit their writing. And keep the disc playing for the untitled extra track, too.

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