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Life is good for Old School Freight Train

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., November 8, 2005

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Life has been good, real good for Old School Freight Train this year.

The Virginia-based quartet released their album "Run" on Dave Grisman's Acoustic Disc label to good reviews. Then, they had the chance to open for Grisman during a summer run before backing him up as well.

And they have played many shows on their own too, spreading their potpourri sound of bluegrass, a bit of Old Time and jazz. And even an Irish lilt ("Mr. Parshif's Jig")

The band ably demonstrated their wares during two sets before perhaps 100 people on agenerally slow night of the concert week.

Acoustic guitarist Jesse Harper is a good lead singer, putting his heart into the songs without overdoing it. He showed off his skills quite well on the encore song, Steve Wonder's "Superstition," (Harper humorously introduced the song as being written by "one of our favorite bluegrass composers") definitely a left of center choice, but they pulled it off admirably with their own take on the chestnut. The Old School version included a long musical interlude, which went towards the jazzy side of the spectrum.

Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," an eerie song to hear in the wake of Hurricane Katrina because the song mentions floods and other ills in Louisiana, was another good cover choice.

Upright bassist Darrell Muller supplied good harmony vocvals on occasion as well.

Aside from the two covers on their label debut (they self-released a disc about four years ago), Old School Freight Train mainly writes its own material.

The sound generally is a lively one with strong playing from Pete Frostic on mandolin and mandocello and Nate Leath spicing up songs with his fiddle work. Ben Krakauer also showed his banjo skills.

"Tango Chutney," mistakenly introduced as "Tango Chili," though that title would have worked just as well, actually had both Indian and Mexican influences. Leath provided a jazzy fiddle to the instrumental, while Krakauer, who wrote the song, added a lot of fiddle.

Being competent and enjoyable, no wonder life has been good for Old School Freight Train.