Last night I saw the bluegrass band Railroad House at The Cantab Lounge in Cambridge. The Cantab has the most well-known weekly bluegrass show in the Boston area, and each Tuesday night they get two bands to play upstairs. Railroad House was the opener, and very impressive. Sometimes the opening acts are a little raw, but Railroad House was extremely polished. I especially liked their sense of dynamics; they would save their beautiful harmonies for choruses or key emotional points in the songs. Rhythm guitarist Rich Piccaretto and mandolinist Jonathan Campbell traded off lead vocals, and Campbell, and fiddler Larry DeJong especially distinguished themselves on breaks, with DeJong throwing in deft tremolos and Campbell moving easily between blues licks, classic bluegrass breaks, and even their bossa nova-tinged finale. Bass player Mike Foster provided high energy and bass lines. Randy Batson, on lead guitar, and Charlie Downey, switching between banjo and Dobro, round out the sextet.
There were a sprinkling of instrumental numbers in the set, but vocal-driven tunes are where this band shines, whether plucking a couple tunes from Steve Earle's The Mountain (the title track and "Texas Eagle"), serving up a standard like "Blue Ridge Mountain Home," or adapting a country tune like "Rough Around the Edges." All in all, it was entertaining, diverse, and impressive - maybe next time they're at Cantab, they'll be a headline act.