It was another case of ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ at the Kitchen Garden Café this evening, albeit there was no sight or sound of the Emmylou Harris classic. What we did have on offer was a highly talented quintet of musicians, once again leaving their hometown in Colorado, and on this UK tour paying a visit to the Second City suburb of Kings Heath. The Railsplitters are the latest in a long line of old time string bands to grace this venue and the evidence on show suggested that they are up there with the best. Throughout this twin set show, the band was rarely shy on attempting to re-define the scope for the type of music they love with sporadic references to pop grass, new grass, Colorado green grass and occasionally offering defiance to the bluegrass police. Putting sub-genre subtleties aside for a moment, the chosen gathering at the Kitchen Garden Café was ultimately privileged to listen to a procession of super sumptuous sounds from the full range of fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and double bass.
While Boulder, Colorado is the base for The Railsplitters, the band members have gravitated to the Rocky Mountains from places as far away as Mississippi, Michigan, Alaska and, even Brazil was mentioned. The journey to Birmingham for this show was a little less on the mileage chart with their previous port of call being a gig at the American Museum in Bath earlier in the afternoon. In fact, two shows in one day had the band buzzing with an equal spread of irreverent chat keeping things light hearted during the song breaks, often necessitated by the obligatory tuning, especially for the banjo.The song scale for The Railsplitters was primarily based on their two studio albums to date, sprinkled with a smart selection of contrasting covers. It was of little surprise to hear the band cover an excellent Bela Fleck fiddle tune (‘Down in the Swamp’) and a Dillards number (‘Whole World Round’), but more so to steam full ahead with Buddy Holly’s ‘Oh Boy’. The latter was the guilty pleasure of bassist Leslie Ziegler, while the first of this trio proved the perfect vehicle for the fiddle playing of Christine King to excel.
These two musicians may have been positioned on the flanks of the stage line up, but were core to the whole sound of The Railsplitters in full play. Next to these two ladies were the two men in the band, namely banjo player Dusty Rider and Peter Sharpe on mandolin. Both these fine musicians were the architects of many of the band originals with Peter being credited with amongst others the song ‘Boarding Pass (That’s the Way It Is’)’ from their 2013 self-titled debut album. While the harmonies were aplenty, Dusty did a fair amount of the solo vocals in tandem with Lauren Stovall who was also responsible for the guitar work in this musical ensemble. If a focal point for The Railsplitters had to be anointed then Lauren would probably get the nod, however the great British political term of ‘first among equals’ is a more suitable description of the band. Apart from the bulk of the lively chat, Lauren impressed immensely with her vocal contribution which had more than a tinge of Southern class especially on the standout song of the night ‘Jackson Town’, referencing her Mississippi roots.
As indicated earlier, the evening rolled out as a two set gig with the band active selling CDs, both in the interval and at the end. Two songs that further impressed in the first half included the traditional tune ‘The Cuckoo’ which raised much debate whether it had its roots in the UK or the US. The other was a Katie Bowser song from Nashville going by the name of ‘Where You Are’. There were numerous stories attached to many of the songs especially ‘The Estuary’ in the second set and the Leslie composition ‘Blue Moon’. Two other traditional songs worthy of a mention came in the final stages of the evening in the guise of ‘Bright Sunny South’ and the inevitable encore piece ‘Fly Around’, complete with the exaggerated line ‘crazy’ exemplifying the band’s desire to end on a high note.
This Birmingham date, which evolved into a highly enjoyable evening, was in the early stages of this tour for The Railsplitters. The indication was that the band was beginning to hit their stride and this bodes well for folks catching them later in the tour. Alongside their debut album, the band was also selling copies of the 2015 album THE FASTER IT GOES with many songs from this release featuring during the show. It was a pleasure to witness a positive, vibrant and accomplished band play a style of music, authentic in its attention to detail yet progressive in its interpretation. Boulder to Birmingham may be a long way, but metaphorically they were in each other’s pockets this evening.