Itís Just A Road

The Boxcars

Mountain Home, 2013

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


With the release of their third album It's Just A Road, the Boxcars now have a discography that feels solid. After their debut release in 2010 was released to tremendous response, it seemed like forever before they released their follow-up, All In. This release continues their string of incredible bluegrass music but notches higher than All In for its mix of progressive musicianship and clever song selection.

Some of the songs carry with them a bit of irony when taken together. The opening track "You Took All The Ramblin' Out Of Me" is an upbeat turn from the typical "ramblers" theme in bluegrass with a man happy with settling down with a good wife with country love and country cooking. The chord progressions keep the song moving and the listener’s interest as well. Following this is the title track, which falls more into the rambler category in that it is a country philosophical discussion on the fact that no matter what avenue you choose to travel on, "it's just a road."  But then there is the soul-stirring "Southern Train," which sounds so much like a ballad of a man dreaming to ramble back home again, like so many bluegrass protagonists. But alas, the reason he is held back from catching that Southern train is due to his incarceration.  It's "Folsom Prison" with choirboy lyrics and a bit more suspense. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

A few lost love tunes, like the bluesy "Cornelia," the bad burning "I'm Leaving You This Lonesome Song," and the high lonesome sounding "Never Again," cover another tried and true bluegrass theme, while "Skillet Head Derailed" is an instrumental show off for the group made up of stringed instrument virtuosos.

The Boxcars flawlessly executes tunes that hearken back to the true roots of American music. The minor keyed "The Devil Held The Gun" is a captivating murder ballad whose tonal harmonies are Appalachian through and through. But it is Adam Steffey's rendition of the 19th century hymn "When Sorrows Encompass Me Round" that can send chills down the spine.  Its modal harmony is typical of early hymns carried into the Appalachian mountains by Scotch Irish settlers and heavily influenced music that is still popular there today. Furthermore, its Calvinist lyrics are a far cry from the praise and worship stylings of contemporary gospel artists. This is a hymn about the wretched state of the human condition.

"Caryville" is a song that has been dying to be written for years. Admittedly, bluegrass music hews close to a few typical themes as many genres do. One of those themes is the primacy of the old home and the near sacredness of the mountains and geography around where one grew up. "Caryville" takes this sentiment and turns it on its head whilst splashing it with a cup of cold reality from 21st century Appalachia. "You call this God's country?" the writer practically snorts in derision on this tune. Not anymore.  He cites that there are "pills and meth and violence all around," which causes our disillusioned country homesteader to observe that "God no longer lives in Caryville."  This is powerful commentary on the state of affairs in Appalachia, where there have always been economic challenges, but the recent rampant abuse of prescription oxycodone painkillers and similar drugs, along with methamphetamine abuse, has brutalized the population.  This scourge has torn apart families and caused rampant crime to fuel the addictions.  In some areas, a high percentage of children are being raised by grandparents and other family members because their parents are dead or otherwise unable or unfit to care for them due to their addiction, and because it is in Appalachia, the issue is largely unknown nationally.  Mega kudos to the Boxcars for taking on this song.

All in all, the Boxcars have done it again with a solid third offering.  There is no degradation in their product.  In fact, they have grown as a group.  Their song selection and absolutely phenomenal skill on their instruments makes It’s Just A Road fresh and lively.

Rating: A-

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