Editor’s Note: In April, 2011, three bands climbed aboard a pair of old train cars in Oakland, CA, and traveled the rails across the American Southwest to New Orleans, LA, stopping in six cities just long enough to unload, play, and pack up for the next leg of the trip. “The Railroad Revival Tour” took Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Mumford & Sons, and Old Crow Medicine Show on a diesel-driven rock-fest, with more than a touch of Southern charm and hometown Americana.
RedFence could not pass up a creative adventure like that. Photographer J. Regan Hutson dashed off to capture the show at their nearest stop — in San Pedro, CA. And now RF Senior Writer James Roland’s offers this three-part introduction to the intrepid rail-reviving bands.
Steel-Riding Melody, Part One
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
“She got jumper cables lips, she got sunset on her breath.
I inhaled just a little bit, now I got no fear of death.”
If a hippie rock-n-roll version of Jesus came to Los Angeles and became a hedonist, he’d probably form a band called Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Luckily for us, He had other things to do, and that particular task was left to Alex Ebert, the former lead singer of Ima Robot.
Disillusioned by a major record label’s corporate influence on his music, Ebert crafted his new sound in the hills off Laurel Canyon, while nursing wounds from a romantic break-up and putting himself through the twelve-step program of AA.
Based on his childhood alter ego, Ebert’s music chronicles the life and adventures of Edward Sharp, a sort-of-messiah figure who comes to save the world but gets distracted by women and drugs. While this might sound like a gimmick, and a bit too autobiographically on the nose (especially since Ebert’s on-stage persona bears a striking resemblance the Christ of popular iconography), the band’s music is remarkably free of self-indulgent lyrics and over-used guitar riffs.
Sharpe’s first album, Up from Below, might have been motivated by Ebert’s down-n-out phase, but instead of hipster melancholia he captured a vibrant, head-bopping tone, often using hand claps and a choir of backup singers to create a feeling of community, as though the tracks you’re listening to were recorded in single takes by a bunch of friends busking for the fun of it.
Ebert and gang are currently in the studio working on a second Edward Sharpe album, and if they capture half the magic of their first record it will be a must-buy.
Part Two – Mumford & Sons
Part Three – Old Crow Medicine Show
The Railroad Revival Tour is the subject of a documentary film, set to premier this month. And the tour itself has scheduled a return this year with an all new lineup. Make sure to check their website for updates.