Chris Cairns was born on Long Island just outside of New York City in 1974. He began playing guitar and banjo at 8 years of age and has been performing since age 10. Chris started his first bluegrass band, The Yankee Bluegrass Boys, in 1988 in New York and his second, Wild Sage, in 1998 in Santa Barbara, CA. His credits include performing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2000, the Strawberry Music Festival in 2001 and on live TV in the Statue of Liberty Celebrations Closing Ceremony in Giant's Stadium at the tender age of 11. As a songwriter, music teacher and record producer, Chris makes his home in Santa Barbara, CA.
"Chris Cairns has written some powerful and engaging tunes on Runaway Train and has chosen just the right guys to handle the back-up chores. I especially enjoyed I'm All Worked Out, Words Aren't There, Let Me In and the title track, Runaway Train. Plus, I think Chris did an outstanding job arranging Dear Old Dixie, June Apple and Long Black Veil." - Dave Higgs - Host of "Bluegrass Breakdown" on Nashville Public Radio
Samantha Sturm - 8-12-05 "AstroZombie.com"
With eye-grabbing cover art, Chris Cairns is a must have from first sight. Traditional bluegrass from track 1, "Runaway Train" on FireHeart records is more than amazing. This is what bluegrass should be. "I'm All Worked Out" gets the listener pumped up immediately for a broad range of bluegrass sounds from fast licks to traditional ballads. Bluegrass traditionalists will be truly speechless when listening to this album. "Let Me In" is gospel truth at its finest. Spiritually uplifting! The harmony and tenor vocals provided by Cairns and Peter Feldman jive together in perfect grace. The title track "Runaway Train" gives off a big Del McCoury vibe at just the right time. Gabe Witcher shows off his lonesome fiddle talents with much ease. "Tumbleweed Blues" showcases wonderful artists at their finest, Witcher on fiddle yet again, Cairns on guitar, David West on Fender P-Bass, Tom Corbett on Mandolin and Lorenzo Martinez on percussion. This song amplifies the definition of fine bluegrass music big and loud. "Warm Southern Winds" has an excellent banjo start by Cairns and joins perfectly into wonderful lyrics and makes you feel those "Warm Southern Winds". What any bluegrass album needs is shown off on track 6 with a cover originally written by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs called "Dear Old Dixie". This is a fast paced song like all Flatt & Scruggs and Cairns has added his own flare to it to make it his own, not an exact copy like some artists try to accomplish. "A Woman Like You" is a very emotional song and Cairns is joined by Penny Nichols on harmony vocals, who can be compared to Alison Krauss. This song is for anyone who has ever loved and lost, a true heartbreak song with the lonesome fiddle to bring the sorrow right to the front. A real heartstring tug. "June Apple" is an old American bluegrass standard Witcher again provides outstanding fiddle skills and proves he is going places with his major talent. Banjo and fiddle are blended together in this song to make is truly wonderful. Chipper and perky to say the least. "Then I Know We'll Be Alright" is straight forward in the truth about religion from Cairns. Simple lyrics and banjo accompaniment make this song something anyone can relate to and understand if you are coming from the same place as Cairns. This song took a lot of courage to record in a day and age where religion is not often discussed in this manner, this proves Cairns believes what he's singing about and is willing to take a risk with it. That is a brave attempt that will go over well wherever it is played. This album is complete with a very new honky-tonk feel to a great old song "Long Black Veil". Very much a Hank Williams Jr. ending to an awesome album, "Long Black Veil" has been turned into something new and exciting. Tom Ball plays an excellent harmonica and completes a nearly perfect album. Chris Cairns is going places and will one day be a big name in bluegrass music, both traditional and non traditional if he continues to make music with the same people used on this album. This is a recommended album for any occasion.
Joe Ross - Contributing writer for Bluegrass Now Magazine:
CHRIS CAIRNS - Runaway Train
FireHeart Records CC8253
Playing Time - 40:12
Chris Cairns' solo CD, "Runaway Train," was conceptualized as an offering of new, thought-provoking original music along with some new arrangements of well-known standards. Cairns wanted to capture the passion and sorrow of life, bottle it up and deliver it to us. Based in Santa Barbara, CA., Cairns is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and banjoplayer who fronts his own band with Eric Brittain and Orest Balaban. For this CD project, Cairns assembled some excellent California musicians to lend a hand. They include David West, Tom Lee, Gabe Witcher, Tom Corbett, Lorenzo Martinez, Bill Bryson, Penny Nichols, Mike Witcher, Peter Feldman, Mike Mullins, Tom Ball, and Bob Nichols. The result is a very successful and rewarding variety that is a little bluegrass one minute, a bit country the next, a tad blues, and a skosh folk.
Chris is a very technically adroit banjo player. Just listen to "Dear Old Dixie" if there's any question. Or his clawhammerin' on "June Apple." His songwriting is also commendable in that he is able to melodically turn some nice phrases to tell his stories. As with most writer's bodies of work, certain songs are more memorable than others depending on their messages, arrangements and hooks. Chris' best penmanship is actually apparent on some of his gospel songs, "Let Me In" and a rawboned arrangement of his humorous tongue-in-cheek "Then I Know We'll Be Alright." David West's fingerpicked guitar is a strong component of the former. Cairns' relaxed opening track, "All Worked Out," has a strong message of optimism and hope, and it might've made a nice closer for the project too. Chris' baritone lead vocals are pleasant and comfortable, but some of his renditions seem to lack some emotional electricity and passion. The title cut, "Runaway Train," for example, could have really been infused with considerable powerful rhythmic intensity. "Warm Southern Winds" would've benefited from similar treatment, and the band's modulation to a higher key by the end of the song does help.
Cairns is a very well-rounded musician, and he should be very proud of this debut project. It is professionally recorded, engineered and produced. I was happy to see the artist's notes and lyrics for each song. Keep your eye on Chris Cairns. We'll be hearing more about this up-and-comer in the bluegrass community, and he's off to a great start with his first album and
FireHeart record label.
Deering Banjo Company Gazette Newsletter - 12-15-03
Chris Cairns Runaway Train - (Featured New CD) - His first solo release "Runaway Train" features original songs performed by Chris and accompanied by a host of talented bluegrass professionals. You'll enjoy his smooth lead vocalizing on such numbers as "Long Black Veil," the gospel favorite "Let Me In," and of special note is the use of Deering's Goodtime openback banjo on "Then I Know We'll Be Alright." Enjoy this CD of 11 songs offering both traditional and innovative ideas!
Aiding and Abetting - Online Music Review by Jon Worley 3-3-04
I don't get many bluegrass albums in the mail, and it's a shame. I love the stuff. There's something about the frenzied--yet technically perfect--banjo and mandolin picking and raucous shouts that speaks directly to my soul.
But Cairns shows off many more sides of the sound than that. His songs take on all tempos and subjects. He even throws in a gospel quarter for good measure. Cairns is a fine songwriter, and he plays a nice banjo (and rhythm guitar), but most importantly he creates wide open spaces for his compatriots on fiddle and mandolin and such.
That's the nice thing about bluegrass, and acoustic music in general. There's plenty of room for every player to shine without overshadowing anyone. The sound on this album is immaculate--there's none of that tinny "authentic acoustic" sound that I just hate. Rather, the tones here are rich and full. Which is, after all, truly authentic.
If I had to quibble, I do wish Cairns would relax and let loose a bit more. There's plenty of energy on this album, but I need a bit more to send me into the stratosphere. Still, this is a fine collection by any standard. And, for the record, I'd love to hear lots more in the future.
Smother.Net - Online review 2-23-04
Chris Cairns - Runaway Train [Editor's Pick]
Who would have thought some of the best bluegrass I've heard in recent time would come from Southern California? Chris's banjo playing is unparalleled and adds a down home groove that's guaranteed to get you slapping your knee and reaching for an instrument to play along. Not only is his music impressive but he's also an entrepreneur; forming his own acoustic bluegrass record label FireHeart Records. I'm always impressed when an artist decides to put out their own music and others on their own label as most don't realize the difficulties of the business side of the music industry. Also to note are his explanations of each song's birth and theme inside the CD booklet; that kind of intimacy is something you'll get used to throughout this album that just speaks to your inner self. This is the perfect introduction to bluegrass if you've never experienced it before.
Santa Barbara Family Life Magazine - Review by Bob Chapman 12-4-03
Need a special gift? Tap into this local talent for friends who think out of the Bluegrass Box... Runaway Train is a new CD by singer/songwriter Chris Cairns is his attempt to move beyond the traditional bluegrass sound, but stay true to his bluegrass roots by featuring his original vocal and instrumental favorites and new original songs. The CD also features a noteworthy bluegrass arrangement of the old-time fiddle tune June Apple, as well as a sampling of more modern acoustic material. Runaway Train is now available at Jensen Music and Folk Mote Music in Santa Barbara. Fans can also purchase this and other fine CD's from FireHeart Records on the web at www.fireheartpro.com or by calling 805-687-7949.
Goleta Valley Voice - Review by Carter Yarbrough 9-20-2003
Chris Cairns - "Runaway Train" - FireHeart Records, Goleta, California. - After a pilgrimage to Nashville, Chris Cairns (lead vocals, banjo, rhythm guitar) has returned to the Good Land and produced a fine first effort. His songs are creatively crafted and he's recruited a host of local talent (David West (mandolin) and Bill Bryson (bass) to name a couple. The title track is a lively bluegrass reeler with help from Gabe Witcher on the lonesome fiddle, while Peter Feldman's rich vocals punctuate the country, Christian picker "Let Me In." "Dear Old Dixie" is a cleverly rearranged Flatt and Scruggs classic but the traditional "June Apple" has got my eye with Cairns on the clawhammer banjo this time.