Formed in 1978, when then-MIT grad students (now married couple) Jim Muller and Sharon Horovitch decided to make their love of bluegrass music more than just a hobby, Southern Rail has always had a revolving set of third and fourth members. The current group consists of Muller on guitar and lead vocals, Horovitch on acoustic bass and harmony vocals, Richard Stillman on banjo and harmony vocals, and John Roc on mandolin and harmony vocals. The band, whose first official gig was at the Dedham Arts Festival, performs original songs as well as standards (“Foggy Mountain Breakdown”) and more recent covers (“It’s a Long Hard Road”). They’ve played all across the country, on both coasts, as far north as Canada, and as far south as Florida at clubs, concerts, festivals, schools, and senior centers.
Muller admits it’s difficult to put an exact name on what they do, preferring to describe it as: “traditional oriented, although we tend to be a little bit more contemporary than your sort of neo-traditional bluegrass. But we stay pretty close to what bluegrass is and was in its roots.” Horovitch adds, “Rather than being slaves to the genre or trying to sound like the way bluegrass ‘sounded’ in the old days, we want the sound to be distinctive. So we drop in a lot of sources – everything from Gillian Welch to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Merle Haggard.” Their most recent self-produced CD – On the Road from Appomattox,on their own Railway Records label – is their 11th, though, sadly, only two of them remain in print. But catching a live Southern Rail show gives fans a little something extra: the often goofy banter that comes between the songs. Or as Muller puts it, “We try to make our shows fun, so I usually try to think up a good joke that doesn’t offend anybody.”
(by Ed Symkus)