For maybe 20 minutes, the Railers delivered a show no one in attendance will forget.
From the first note Jonathan Lawson belted out on lead vocals, to the raw energy he shared with his wife Cassandra as they harmonized; we were hooked.
To Jonathan’s right, his brother Jordan Lawson went from gutsy rhythms on the mandolin to soaring violin solos, keeping us mesmerized at every turn. After a few fiery originals the band transformed a couple of unlikely covers, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” with Cassandra’s multitude of instruments – including the button accordion, plastic bucket and even a scratchy megaphone – adding rhythm, depth and an edgy Cajun attitude. The intensity grew more captivating with every song.
And then it stopped.
That’s when we remembered that we were in a tiny rehearsal room at Nashville’s S.I.R. Studios, where a total of maybe five visitors had just witnessed one of the most thrilling performances we’d seen in a long time.
“Playing music is the fun part,” explains Jonathan as they catch their breath. “We just believe in having fun while you can!”
“If we’re not soaking in sweat when we’ve finished playing, it doesn’t count,” adds Cassandra, casually laughing. “That’s pretty dang important to us.”
No wonder they’ve been building a devoted following. And not just among fans of soulful, no-nonsense country music: Their artist comrades have been buzzing about the Nashville-based trio for a while. Hunter Hayes, Brett Eldredge, Dwight Yoakam, Dustin Lynch and Corey Smith have all taken the Railers on the road and been paid back in full by the excitement they’ve generated as their opening act.
Fate drew Phoenix native Cassandra to the Lawson brothers as all three were attending Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. After graduation, they hunkered down in Nashville, playing together in coffee shops and bars, making connections with fellow songwriters and musicians. They paid the rent with various outside work: Jonathan found a gig with Sara Evans’s band, Jordan with Josh Turner, and Cassandra worked as a Special Education teacher - until the increasing desire to risk it all for their unique blend became too strong to ignore.
“About six years ago, we decided to walk away from our safe spaces, from everything that was paying our bills,” Jordan remembers. “We had to jump off at some point and take this leap of faith in ourselves as a band. So in the spring of 2010 we sat down in a coffee shop, pulled out a cocktail napkin and wrote the words ‘September 1 or Bust.' We gave ourselves six months to go full time or hang it up and get real jobs.”
Almost exactly six months later, Sara Evans invited them up to open both her fall and winter tours. After playing small venues around Nashville, they now found themselves on arena stages, connecting with thousands of fans night after night. Since then, their stage has expanded even further as they’ve toured with label mate and superstar Hunter Hayes.
That’s also why Rolling Stone picked the Railers for their list of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know,” noting that “their multifarious sound is unlike anything on today’s country radio.” ForTheCountry.com lauded them for “sending a fresh form of contemporary country to radio” and Sara Evans boiled their talent down to this strong truth: “ Killer songs, master musicianship, soaring vocals…they have it all!”
So the secret is out — or it’s about to be, as they gear up to release their upcoming Warner Bros. debut album. Its first single, “11:59 (Central Standard Time),” sets the stage with a swaggering call to rock whatever house you’re in: “I know it’s late but wait a minute, Tomorrow’s got another party in it.” The tempo is perfect for whatever kind of dance feels right. The chorus hook is unstoppable. The fresh sound is undeniable.
But the album as a whole isn’t as straightaway. It’s more of a spin through varied scenery, from heartbreak ballads to more traditional up-tempo country tracks, with hints of rock ’n’ roll and bluegrass sprinkled in. All this diversity does share one critical element, though.
“Authenticity,” Cassandra declares. “We’ve experimented with our music along the way. But we always come back to this sweet spot, where everything we play has to feel genuine and real and 150 percent us. During the recording of this album, we craved depth, we survived heartbreak, we searched for new textures, we had a ton of fun laying it all out in the studio— and knew we needed to capture the whole wild ride the past few years has brought us."
That’s what they deliver on this outstanding debut: a little bit of everything that life has to offer, delivered with their unique balance of raw feeling and razor-sharp musicianship, in-the-moment playfulness and clear-headed ambition.
"It’s so much fun to connect with fans and sweat and have a great time and just lose ourselves."