The song of the week is 'New River Train' in the key of D.
The progression I use for this song is:
Note: Other versions of the song use the slightly different progression:
which is the same as the progression for 'Mama Don't Allow', 'When The Saints Go Marching In', 'The Crawdad Song', and 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain'.
In the key of D: 1=D, 4=G, and 5=A
For banjo players, I recommend playing this song without a capo when playing it in D, with the 5th string tuned/spiked up to an A note. This way you can find all the melody notes on the 4th and 3rd strings. (See the attached banjo tab of the melody.)
Some guitar players may prefer to capo to the 2nd fret and play as if in C. This works well for doing a Carter-style guitar break for the song (i.e., a break in which the melody is carried on the bass strings of the guitar with strums in between the melody notes when there is time for them), for all the notes of the melody can be found within the first 3 frets on the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings. For this reason, I have included two guitar tabs of the melody in the attachments: one in D and the other in C.
Since the melody of 'New River Train' spans less than one octave, and - in the key of D - the lowest melody note is a D and the highest melody note is a B, the melody can be played in first position on fiddle and mandolin in two different octaves. In the lower octave, all the melody notes can be found on the 3rd and 2nd strings; in the higher octave, all the melody notes can be found on the 2nd and 1st strings. For fiddle and mandolin, I have included both octaves in the attached melody sheets. You may wish to work up two breaks for the song: one in the lower octave, and the other in the higher octave, so that you need not always play the same break when it is your turn to play a break.
Here are some youtube links of good versions of 'New River Train' to listen to:
First, here is the classic Bill and Charlie Monroe recording from 1936, with just mandolin and rhythm guitar and two voices - key of D.
Tony Rice and Norman Blake - also in the key of D, and quite a bit slower than the Monroe Brothers recording: good guitar breaks on this one:
Here are a couple of full band versions of the song (both in the key of E) in which - of the main bluegrass instruments - more than just guitars and mandolins are represented for the breaks:
The White Brothers - New River Train:
Roland White - New River Train - Live at McCabe's
The lyrics of New River Train are quite repetitive and easy to memorize. For this reason, this is one of the songs I recommend learning to sing to those who wish to lead a song at the jam, but do not have much experience doing so. Other songs on the top 20 list and on the additional 30 list that are fairly easy to memorize include: Mama Don't Allow, My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, Do Lord, Lonesome Road Blues, She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain, This Little Light Of Mine, When The Saints Go Marching In, and Worried Man Blues.
It is important to sing from memory when leading the singing at a jam, because, whenever the lead singer is singing, he is the one who is primarily in control of the timing and rhythm of the song. So, he should be singing toward the group as a whole, and his lips should be clearly visible to the group, since the group is supposed to be following him. One cannot lead a song very effectively at a jam when reading the lyrics off a page. If the page is at eye level (for instance, on a music stand), then the page (and the stand) will form a barrier between the lead singer and his fellow jammers. If the page is below eye level (on the ground, or on one's lap), then the lead singer will be looking down, singing towards the ground, instead of towards the group.
This does not mean that one should not bring lyric sheets to a jam. For, even when a song is memorized, it is very easy to forget - in the moment - how the 2nd verse (and subsequent verses) of a song starts. So, near the end of the break that comes right before another verse will be sung, it can be useful to be able to quickly glance at the lyrics to remind oneself, if one forgets. Observe, though, that this does not involve looking at the lyrics while singing.
However, instead of referring to a page on which the lyrics are written out in full, it is better to just write out the first line of the 2nd verse, and the first line of each subsequent verse in large print, and then place the page on the floor in front of you. Many guitar players - myself included - will tape smaller versions of these kind of 'cheat sheets' to their guitars for songs that they fear they might forget the lyrics to, so that - if needed - they can take a quick glance at them before starting to sing the next verse. (This will also work for stand-up bass players.)
If one needs to see more than just the beginnings of the 2nd and subsequent verses of a song in order to jog one's memory enough to be able to get through singing the whole song without serious errors, then this is usually a good sign that one does not yet know the song well enough to lead it effectively at a jam, and that one should give it some more practice at home before leading it at a jam.