Taarka: Seeking Americana

Boulder couple's fifth release hones the band’s eclectic sound

Stephanie Riesco | Boulder Weekly

On Taarka’s fifth studio album, Adventures in Vagabondia, the band’s well-traveled sound puts down a few solid roots for the first time.

Having finished a busy East Coast tour, the husband-and-wife duo are currently enjoying a brief return to their roots in Colorado, and released the new album in January. Taarka member David Pelta-Tiller says, so far, the response to their new, refined style has been more than positive.

“It seems like it’s been a lot of people’s favorite of our stuff,” David Pelta-Tiller says. “Our music is always out between genres and, with this one, I think people who are interested in multiple genres and people who aren’t can all grab onto it.”

For seasoned Taarka fans, the toning down of these “multiple genres” may come as a surprise. David Pelta-Tiller and his wife, Enion Pelta-Tiller, are known for reveling in a variety of genres like gypsy jazz, Celtic, Eastern European folk, Indian, punk and classical. Though not a complete departure, Adventures in Vagabondia steps away from many of their worldly influences and focuses more closely on old-timey American folk and bluegrass sounds. But David Pelta-Tiller says this choice wasn’t random; albums like their 2009 release, Seed Gathering for a Winter Garden, were already guiding them in this direction.

“The record before was kind of a halfway point between the two ideas,” David Pelta-Tiller says. “It was Americana to some extent, but still had a lot of gypsy flavors and a Euro-edge. And the one before that was much more jazz and jumped around the map, and the one before that even moreso. So now we’ve gotten closer to Americana roots and sort of a new acoustic music styling than in previous records.”

Beyond this natural shift, Taarka’s evolving style can simply be attributed to two curious musicians who like to explore their talents. David Pelta-Tiller provides the mandolin, bass, guitar, vocals and bouzouki (a Greek musical instrument) for the band, while Enion Pelta-Tiller plays the violin and sings. David Pelta-Tiller says diversity in their music comes from a desire to learn more about their craft.

“We often write in order to teach ourselves something about the music,” he says. “If we hear music we really like or if it inspires us, we try to learn something about the music, and sometimes we really internalize it and try to write a new piece.”

The band, which used to be entirely instrumental, has started experimenting with vocals in their recent work, and several songs on Adventures in Vagabondia feature Decemberists-like tales that weave through uplifting melodies. While David Pelta-Tiller doesn’t want to speak for his wife, he says the feel of the album was inspired in part by Enion Pelta-Tiller’s love of Songs from Vagabondia, an 1894 collection of poetry by Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey.

“I know she was enjoying the poems and looking for ways to tell ideas at the time,” David Pelta-Tiller says. “They caught her attention, and she grabbed onto them and spent a lot of time with them.”

The two originally met in New York City, where they were each discovered playing in separate subway stations by a banjo player recruiting for his band, Brooklyn Browngrass. After playing together for a year, the couple decided to break off on their own to begin writing music together. Taarka was officially formed in 2001 in Portland, Ore., and in 2006, the artists decided it was time to pack up and head for Lyons. Pelta-Tiller says they were interested in Colorado’s brand of bluegrass and folk, and fell in love with the state’s music scene.

“We’ve got a lot of great friends who play music here, and I love the sociability,” he says. “It’s very different than how I find the West Coast music scene, but the East Coast is fairly like this too. There’s a whole network of musicians in the string world that connect and get together and play music together, and this is pretty common around the Boulder area.”

David Pelta-Tiller adds that no matter what style they’re playing, a Taarka show has one main focus.

“People shouldn’t expect a lot of acrobatics with our bodies beyond our fingers and our musical ideas at our shows,” he says. “We just go as deeply into the music as we can and see what happens when we come out the other side.”

Taarka plays Rogers Hall on Saturday, March 16. Doors at 7 p.m. New Time Ensemble opens. Tickets are $16. 400 High St., Lyons, www.highstreetconcerts.com.

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