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Railroad Earth: The jam train rolls on

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Railroad Earth has garnered many traditional labels after 10 years and five albums: Americana, folk, bluegrass and country, among others.

But for lead singer Todd Sheaffer, the band’s music transcends categories. It ranges from tender, soft acoustic solos to full-blown improvisation.

This sound is developed even further on the group’s new self-titled album, released earlier this month. The album’s songs each tell a different story and ultimately weave together to reveal the light and dark qualities of the American spirit, Sheaffer said.

amNewYork caught up with Sheaffer, 24, to talk about the band:

What’s different about this album?
There’s more electric guitar. It has more of a rock feel on some of the songs.

Why do you improvise?
We play the spirit and the meaning and purpose of the song. I’ll give you an example. We have a song called “Bird in the House,” where we improvise in the middle section. I’ll take a guitar solo and … I will embody the bird and embody that spirit and embody the tail of the song. I’ll pass it over to [violinist] Timmy [Carbone] and he will embody the bird. You be the bird for a while.

Are you ever afraid you’ll improvise something that will be really bad?
Honestly, no. It’s a leap of faith, but we also have very loving fans.

The band name Railroad Earth comes from the story, “October in the Railroad Earth” by Jack Kerouac. As a literate band, what are you reading these days?
I’m actually in the third part of a trilogy [“A Stillness at Appomattox”], a Civil War story by a historian by the name of Bruce Catton. Ulysses Grant just took over the army and he’s getting ready to kick some ass.


What’s that sound?

Railroad Earth uses lots of unusual instruments to create its sound. Some of the instruments you’ll find on this album include the fiddle, mandolin, pennywhistle and a long-necked lute called a bouzouki.

If you go: Railroad Earth will be performing at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Irving Plaza. 17 Irving Pl., 212-777- 6800. $26.50

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