Blackwater Railroad Company releases vibrant new single, “Rock and Roll Man”

Article Contributed by Sarah J Frost | Published on Thursday, July 4, 2024

Blackwater Railroad Company began as a community band in Seward, Alaska, a deep-water harbor, port city and gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park; over the past decade, the band honed folk-style songwriting and a raucous live show into a singular Alaskan voice that's grounded in storytelling and foot-stomping good times. Their new album, A Lovely Place to Die, out on July 12, finds them poised on the precipice of their next chapter.

Rock and Roll Man,” out now,  is a robust addition to the album; to record it, producer Justin Smith loaded a vintage Rhodes piano onto the four-hour ferry from Gustavus, AK. Keyboardist Kyle Comeau created an iconic underpinning on the second verse that propels the song into a prime example of what the album is overall: more than the sum of its parts—an energetic, colorful and dynamic time capsule of the moment the band is in, one full of vibrant transformation.

“A string band with a twist…perhaps Alaska's most popular group at the moment.”
- Bandcamp Daily

To further flesh out their sound on the album, the band recruited members of the Muskeg Collective—a group made up of independently celebrated Juneau, AK musicians and songwriters Annie Bartholomew, Josh Fortenbery, Taylor Vidic, Erin Heist and Andrew Heist. The group works together to highlight and celebrate the incredible songwriting community developing in Southeast Alaska.

On “Rock and Roll Man,” Vidic improvised haunting harmonies as the recording session was ending. “She did four or so takes of absolutely brilliant work and gave everyone in the room chills,” the band notes.

The song follows the release of previous singles, “Rooster,” which is a tribute to "the folks who celebrate and enjoy the life they have," the band says, and "Clarity,” which chronicles the moment Tyson T. Davis, the band's primary songwriter, realized he wanted to marry his wife—during an otherwise inconsequential grocery store trip. “She started pulling boxes off the shelf and ran around the store with them on her feet,” he says. “I thought, in a moment of clarity, that we could keep each other entertained for a lifetime.”

Made up of Tyson T. Davis (acoustic guitar, lead vocals); Kyle Comeau (keyboards and vocals); Ben Sayers (bass guitar and vocals); Braden Rollins (tenor saxophone, additional vocals), and Will Balcao (drums) as well as frequent guest appearances by fiddle players Rachel DeTemple and Ryan McLaughlin, the band is well-versed in leaning into their strengths, and playing into each others'. The recent addition of drums and saxophone give A Lovely Place to Die a soulful, old-school feeling; they pair with rock-inspired bass and honky-tonk piano to showcase how the band has evolved from an Alaskana string band to a full-on American roots-rock outfit.
The band worked with producer/engineer Justin Smith (Josh Fortenbery, Annie Bartholomew) to hone their sound on A Lovely Place to Die. The album kicks off with “Raging Bull in the Barroom,” a fictional, Gold Rush-era tale the band calls a “classic Alaskan love story” featuring a barroom brawl over a love interest in a place where men outnumber women two to one.
“He came looking for riches and freedom and ended up broken in shackles,” they say of the song. “It's another highlight of the extremes that Alaska creates in those who choose to spend their lives here.”
“Road to Make Believe” is a songwriting collaboration between Davis, Sayers, and Alaskan country songwriter Roland Roberts. It is the only song on the album with lead vocals from three of the band members. Davis, Sayers, and saxophonist Braden Rollins each feature on a verse and then join into a stop-time harmony for the last chorus.
Ultimately, A Lovely Place to Die is intended to highlight the bright moments in life—in Alaska and beyond—but also meant to illuminate some of the long nights and hard times that everyone experiences.
“We write a lot about what we feel it is to be an Alaskan and what it is to seek out a life worth living, and finding a lovely place to die,” the band says. “Everybody has a story worth telling, and we want to create music that resonates with the highs and lows, the celebration and joy, but also the complexities.”