Outside the Boxcar


the boxcars: keith garrett, ron stewart, harold nixon, john bowman and adam steffey. photo by dean hoffmeyer.

When a band take The Boxcars as its name, the imagery begins to flow.

You picture music in motion that is constant and unhurried, yet still urgent. You sense songs with a folklorish sense of longing, distance and wanderlust.

In the case of All In, the second and newest album by this all-star bluegrass collective, all those topics and attitudes apply. The recording runs along the brisk but desperate sideroads of Alone and Wondering Why, travels back to the Depression Era with the dark orphans saga Crawford County and settles briefly under the cautiously shady shelter of Old Hollow Tree.

The music bears a lightness, a delicate and harmonious acoustic accent devoid of the kind of narrative and melodic sentimentality that has made a lot of contemporary bluegrass sound like modern country music. Credit that to the hearty traditional streak that runs throughout All In – especially the four tunes penned by Boxcars guitarist Keith Garrett. But toss in a patiently brewed version of Earl Scruggs’ I’ve Lost You, and the extent of the band’s roots-friendly journeys is revealed.

While The Boxcars may still be a new name to some, despite a hearty showing at last year’s International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual awards ceremony (where it won honors for Instrumental Group of the Year). But its personnel should be familiar to even the most casual of regional bluegrass fans.

Let’s start with bassist Harold Nixon and banjoist Ron Stewart, both of whom put in six years with J.D. Crowe and the New South about the time their Grammy nominated album Lefty’s Old Guitar was being constructed.

Stewart stuck to fiddle during that time. No need for another banjo picker when Crowe is in the band. In The Boxcars, however, fiddle is handled primarily by John Bowman, another Crowe alum who played bass during his brief New South tenure. He is perhaps better known for an extensive run with The Isaacs and, for about a year and a half, Alison Krauss and Union Station, where he played guitar ahead of Dan Tyminski.

Another Union Station veteran, mandolinist Adam Steffey, who later co-founded Mountain Heart, completes the lineup. But he also performed with The Isaacs.

Shoot, you need to jump aboard a boxcar just to keep up with where these guys have been, much less where they are going. On Saturday, though, The Boxcars’ travels take the band to Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City. Blue River will open.

The Boxcars perform at  7 p.m. Feb. 23 at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall, 303 Bluegrass Lane in Clay City. Tickets are $12. Call (606) 663-9008.

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