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"Is the standard here usually that high?" A question overheard at Saltaire between sets of The Railsplitters 16th gig of their 21 dates in 23 days first UK tour.
The band, formed in 2012 were originally a 4 piece, they found fiddler Christine King making them a quintet. All members are currently Colorado residents. Their music has bluegrass roots but goes way beyond the Bluegrass genre although that 'high lonesome sound' is ever present. Jokingly on stage they listed the various offshoots they encompass - Newgrass, Popgrass, Sambagrass, Rockgrass, Countrygrass, Doo-Wop Grass, Crosby, Stills & Grass and as one person in the audience shouted out "Laughing-grass". Guitarist and lead singer Lauren Stovall, described as 'the tiniest person on stage', has a huge voice delivering powerful and very soulful vocals. All members take on vocal leads as well as providing great harmonies. Dusty Rider (his real name!) is a seriously mean banjo picker performing banjo licks that are up there with the best. Peter Sharpe matches him on mandolin throughout. Striking moves and bass playing from upright bassist Leslie Ziegler and a very talented fiddler Christine King complete the very talented line up.
Before the show they sampled West Yorkshire curry and after being delighted by the local offerings said they would have to revaluate Indian food in America. They opened with an upbeat Sweet Little Miss from their new CD THE FASTER IT GOES. This gave the audience a good taste of the treats ahead with great vocals from Dusty and Lauren and edge of the seat instrumental licks from all members. Spray followed, a bluegrass instrumental from their first CD aptly titled THE RAILSPLITTERS. Tilt-a-Whirl, named after a ride at their local fair inspired the title of their latest album.
Following the ride the song gets faster as it progresses gradually coming to a halt, starting off with great harmonies it features some very impressive playing. In true bluegrass style all members got to show their enormous individual skills throughout this tune. Earlier video clips of the band show them performing in traditional bluegrass style around one mike but tonight they had 5 on stage- who says Yorkshire is a tight place? Most of their material is original. The writing being very ably shared by all members. Two notable covers in the first set were Buck Owens Act Naturally which had been treated to a great revamp and a Tony Rice cover Carolina Star. Christine and Dusty also play in a Buck Owens tribute band. The set was well paced, great vocals, driving rhythms and dance tunes as well as slower delicate instrumentals such as The Estuary. The first set concluded with a Dusty tune It's a Little Late which started with shimmering mandolin and banjo with some very interesting descending scale vocal harmonies, Christine chopped the fiddle for great percussive effect. Their interplay was really excellent. Only their latest CD was on sale as the first had sold out earlier in the tour.
Set 2 opened with a Carter Family song Please Don't Leave Me Any More Darlin' performed with a beautiful acapella five part harmony, Samba grass instrumental Goosetown followed. Some very innovative and fast banjo picking in Planted On The Ground with vocal lead exchanges as well as tempo changes throughout the song's conversation. A Doo-Wop grass song Tell Me had a catchy groove punctuated and led by the upright bass with Christine's fiddle soaring away. Trad song The Cuckoo kept the pace moving. Again instrumental licks abounded in this tune with some superb and flawless playing from everyone. A slow dance tune Boarding Pass changed the pace but not for long when Peter's mandolin led into You. Dusty took lead vocals on The Bright Sunny South which fairly romped along ending the show. The encore Jackson Town, a song about Lauren's home town finished a night which flew by all too quickly for the very enthusiastic and receptive audience. They expect to be back in the Spring, hopefully stopping over in Yorkshire.
Answer to question at the start. A resounding "Yes". Saltaire standards are high and getting higher as both The Live Room and Saltaire Live shows put Saltaire firmly on both audience and artists maps.
Keith Belcher (Words and Pictures)