Washington blues/folk rock quartet Stargrass is four musicians from very different backgrounds, but like the members' influences the band is more than the sum of its parts.
Their chemistry shows through in their Tidings Café performance of "Done with Me," a thoughtful song about the heartbreak of drifting apart sung to guitarist and songwriter Ted Wallis' high falsetto that harkens back to an era when Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" was in 8-track decks across the country.
"It's really kind of a tight unit and it really grooves pretty heavy at times," Stargrass frontman and guitarist Ted Wallis said about his bandmates' melding during funk rhythm parts of the song.
After spending nearly a decade fronting Seattle-area startups that came and went, Wallis has assembled a team of musicians as passionate and dedicated to professionalism as he is. From gifted young drummer Chris Carlson to fellow Seattle music scene veterans Joe Bean on guitar and Bennet Pullen on bass, each member has the experience needed to play their part well.
"It's really been refreshing because usually I would kind of run the show a little bit but now it's like it's not as much, and we've come up with some really great ideas that I wouldn't have thought of arrangement-wise and it's because of their excellence," Wallis said.
Most of the lineup has been assembled from the ashes of Wallis' previous projects. Bean used to play in Wallis' first band called Sweet Tea, and Wallis worked with Carlson while touring with a band called Orange, which found some success on college radio in the mid-2000s, primarily throughout the Midwest before the band folded in 2006.
"We toured for a couple years and I met Chris," Wallis said about his days in Orange, "We'd gone through like a bunch of drummers touring and stuff, and I met Chris and he was only 17 at the time but was definitely head and shoulders the best drummer that I'd ever played with."
Orange folded about the same time Carlson left to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., and graduated last May. There he learned to play different styles, music theory and composition.
"It grew me by every way possible as a musician," Carlson said.
After graduation, Carlson reconnected with Wallis, and the band started performing in September.
The band spent Monday and Tuesday nights performing at Johnny B's in Medford and at the Caldera Tap House Wednesday night in support of their new CD, "Coward," a collection of modern yet orchestrated songs with introspective lyrics on heartbreak, love and being human.
"I really like the production of like a lot of strings and layered guitars in bands like Supertramp and Steely Dan and even Led Zeppelin for that matter, they didn't spare anything in the studio," Wallis said. "I definitely like the 70s production style, and that's what I kind of wanted to do in this record."
The album will be available for digital download after the band returns from the tour from their Web site at www.stargrass.org, but pre-release copies will be available at another show at the Caldera Tap House tonight at 9 p.m., a concert no music fan should miss.
Despite that the band hadn't spent much time in Southern Oregon before, the band credits local venues' warm reception to the band as the reason for touring so heavily in the area. The tour was Bean's first time in Southern Oregon.
"It worked out for what it was, and we got to spend some time in Medford which was kind of cool," Bean said. "Ashland seems a little funner though, we kind of like Ashland a little bit better. There's more life going on and the downtown area's pretty cool."
Be sure to check out Stargrass' performance of "Done with Me" at dailytidings.com or check out the Tidings Café group on ConnectAshland.com at connectashland.com/group/tidingscafe.