Todd Sheaffer is an everyman, despite his position of songwriter, guitarist, and lead vocalist for acoustic rock band Railroad Earth. After the first opener closed their set I went to leave the music room – located upstairs at Smith’s Olde Bar, an Atlanta jamband institution – and walked by him. I gave him a nod and he inquired, “how you doin’, buddy?” It was a rare moment to see the headliner just chilling out enjoying an opening act and even stranger that he had a few minutes of peace to do it alone.
Once he took the stage, Todd Sheaffer becomes part of the every man. “Dandelion Wine” opened this night and when he sings the line…
“Sometimes I sing for money
Sometimes I sing for food
But most times I sing for nothing
‘Cause it’s all that I can do”
…you know where he’s coming from. Not the “all that I can do part,” but certainly that he’d be doing it even if he didn’t get paid.
A personal favorite, “The Good Life” came next. A story about a couple that leave New York for a simpler life in the country, its a romance tune second to none.
“They got bread in the oven, got books on the shelf
They’re lookin’ deep into each others’ eyes & deep into themselves
Pursuin’ ideals with grace & style
And they’re makin’ ends meet with their huckleberry guile”
A song from Sheaffer’s From Good Homes days, “Skinny Man” came next, based on his interactions with a homeless man. A gem amongst gems, “Seven Story Mountain” shined just as much in the solo intimacy of Smith’s Olde Bar as it does in the large club or amphitheater setting Railroad Earth typically plays. The song invokes a personal conversation with God, an admission of thirst, and lyrics like “sometimes I wonder who I am” that – if that catch you at the right time – can be deeply personal.
Another highlight, “Hard Livin’” tells the story of a man seeking forgiveness. It’s hard to tell if Sheaffer’s lyrics are aimed at a lover, a God, or both. Either way, its a feel good song celebrating a new course.
A new effort followed, perhaps a song about a child, beckoned an audience member to ask, “what’s the name of the song?” Todd drew a chuckle from the audience with his response.
“I’m thinking ‘Old Soul.’ That’s how I usually do it, whatever I say the most.”
“Bird in a House” was introduced with a little background story. It appears that in Sheaffer’s “starving artist phase,” he squatted in a small room of a house with a little window. There was a period of time where a little bird would come and go from the room. One day Todd came home and the bird had died in the room. “People ask me all the time what the song is about,” he continued, “and I tell them it’s about a bird.” The performance was a highlight and along with his story of “Skinny Man” served as a reminder that Sheaffer can take small things – or even things that might be an annoyance to you and to me – and turn them into lyrical art.
“Peace on Earth” signaled the end of the set but Sheaffer didn’t even make it off the stage before the audience willed him back to encore with a take on U2’s “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World.”
One thing that struck me during the evening was Sheaffer’s performance on his guitar. Often lost in the Railroad Earth setting, he seamlessly moved from fingerpicking to flatpicking, playing with emotional control to compliment his standout voice.
Todd Sheaffer is an everyman. Only Todd Sheaffer is an exceptional singer/songwriter, and this was an exceptional performance.
For more on Todd Sheaffer, check out our feature “JamGrass.net Recommends – Railroad Earth.”