The grass is always greener on Mars: Taarka returns to Tahoe
October 21, 2008
Appropriately enough, for a band that named its newest CD “The Martian Picture Soundtrack,” atmosphere seems important for Taarka.
That’s true of both the atmosphere the band creates with its instruments and the atmospheres the band explores at different venues around the country. Taarka is re-entering the Divided Sky in Meyers for a show Wednesday, Oct 22.
“The atmosphere is a friendly sort of neighborhood vibe and atmosphere,” mandolin virtuoso David Tiller said of the Divided Sky, adding that Taarka tries to avoid playing pubs these days.
Tiller and wife Enion Pelta-Tiller are the two core members, but Tiller expects Taarka to have a trio or quartet for Thursday’s show. That’s nothing unusual for the band, which worked with Joe Craven and Casey Driessen, both of whom wrote songs, and bluegrass fiddler Darol Anger on “The Martian Picture Soundtrack.”
Taarka also shares a piece of instrumentation and piece of history with Anger, a longtime Bay Area presence. Pelta-Tiller plays a five-string violin that luthier John Sullivan made.
“Darol played the five-string of Enion’s, and immediately was in love with it and had to get one,” Tiller said.
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The last instrument Sullivan crafted before his death from esophageal cancer on April 21, 2007, was a five-string violin for Anger.
Tiller called Pelta-Tiller’s violin one of the finest five-strings on the planet. And it brings a different dimension to Taarka’s sound. A five-string violin has a low C string like a viola.
“For me, it’s enormous, because basically a five-string violin is a viola and violin in one,” Tiller said. “Enion, with this one instrument, gets hired a violist for string quartet one week … and hired as a violinist for another string quartet another week and never have to change instruments.”
Taarka describes its music as gypsy-grass, and while Tiller indicated that the “grass” is more present on other albums, there’s another world of music on “The Martian Picture Soundtrack.”
“We’ve been taking the influence from the East and smashing into new acoustic and Americana music,” Tiller said. “We try to combine a lot of realities, one being a danceable element, so people can feel and groove and not have to think, but then we like to dig in deeper.”
“Definitely, there’s simplicity to hold onto and complexity to go deeper into. There’s no one left wondering what the hell to do.”
It would be understandable if “The Martian Picture Soundtrack” were straight-up bluegrass. After all, Taarka’s current home world is Lyons, Colo., the location of Planet Bluegrass, home to three music festivals a year (folk and Celtic as well as bluegrass).
Evidently, a strain of bluegrass flourishes along the Flatirons: Nearby Boulder is home to the String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon and many others.
But Taarka has the name, a history and influences that reflect a global mind-set. The Tillers met in New York City and played for a band called Brooklyn Browngrass. They left the city right after Sept. 11 for Portland, Ore., then picked Colorado to get away from the wet weather.
“We like to include elements of world flavor so that we’re not just Americans here, we’re all people on the same planet. Even though we’re not specifically world music … we try to include a world flavor to inspire different thoughts and different feelings.”
It’s world music ” from another world.
If Taarka had just described its music as folk, I might have embraced it more.
Despite (or maybe because of) my Carolina-Virginia-Colorado roots, bluegrass ” particularly the upper-crust species that sprang up in Boulder or San Diego ” isn’t really my cup of moonshine. Tim Parsons 6/9/08 HaAnd if I do end up listening to it, I’m more interested in the “crust” than the “upper.” Bluegrass musicians should lack a few teeth and own a banjo and a still ” or at least a bogus Oxycontin prescription. So I’m not sure I’m the guy to explain how an album is going to hit the ‘grassheads.
At least on “The Martian Picture Soundtrack,” Taarka’s gypsy-grass is heavy on the gypsy with not much odor of grass, making it much easier for me to inhale.
Taarka, which plays Friday, June 19, at the Divided Sky in Meyers, seems more interested in creating atmosphere than geeking out into a hoity-toity hoedown like some other Boulder-area bands. To my untrained ear, Taarka has more in common with Mazzy Star or Regina Spektor than Yonder or Nickel Creek.
From the cover art ” Heather MacFarlane’s drawing of a little green alien warbling its heart out in a boat ” through the first four tracks, Taarka creates a plaintive but whimsical mood behind Enion Pelta-Tiller’s five-string violin (not fiddle) and Tiller largely on guitar. The disc’s only misstep, “Changes Should Come Easy,” breaks the mood, and since Taarka plays subtly rather than twanging and whanging away into a high-country hootenanny, it takes a while to get the mood back.
I’d call them virtuoso performers with interesting instrumentation and the ability to evoke a mood without resorting to vocals.
I just wouldn’t call it bluegrass.
No doubt “Flight of the Snowbird” is what you’ll be hearing tinkle out of the earbuds from that dreadlocked Boulderite telemarker from Tuscaloosa on the lift at Eldora next season.