Tallgrass serves up some dirt-stomping soul

BY ISAAC HERMAN | JUNE 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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If you like your whiskey neat and your hands dirty, then the band Tallgrass may just be perfect for you. The Iowa City-based trio will perform in the Friday Night Concert Series on the Pedestrian Mall on Friday, as well as an additional show at Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St., the following night.

Tallgrass was formed in 2011, when brothers Adam and Austin Morford asked longtime friend Matt Skinner to play with them. Despite being the first time calling themselves “Tallgrass,” it was far from the first time the three musicians played together.

“The three of us have played in three different bands together, Tallgrass included,"  said Skinner, the band’s guitar and banjo player. "The first two were Iowa City bands back in the early and late-2000s called the Jensen Connection and the Gglitch. All in all, we’ve been playing together off and on for almost a decade.”

The band’s sound is pure Americana, or as they like to call it, “Dirt-Stomping Soul.” Each member plays numerous instruments, which they alternate depending on what fits the song. Adam Morford specializes in drums and keyboards, while Skinner plays guitar, banjo, and harmonica. Austin Morford holds it all together with his talent on the bass.

“We write music based on how we’re feeling at the time,” said Adam Morford. “Thankfully, we don’t always feel the same day to day, so some songs end up very different from others.”

Different is indeed the correct word to categorize the band’s sound: its second album, Better Than Medicine, is a Crock-Pot of gospel, bluegrass, indie, and folk sounds that has been brought to a simmer and served with some pepper.

The group’s début album, God, Sin, Whiskey, and Women, was released in the summer of 2012. In the time between that release and the recording of Better Than Medicine, the musicians shared the stage with numerous well-known recording artists, including Melissa Etheridge, the Ben Miller Band, and Sublime with Rome. They even opened for President Barack Obama during a 2012 campaign stop in Iowa City.

“It was a huge honor and an amazing experience,” said Austin Morford. “Our instruments were even protected by the Secret Service for a day.”

Tallgrass’s sound comes from a mix of both old and new music. The members’ passion for roots music informs a lot of the songwriting, as well as acoustic such instruments as the banjo and harmonica. However, a lot of riffs on their album sound as if they could be heard on the radio.

“Roots music is the seed in the ground that grew into blues, bluegrass, country, rock and roll — you name it,” Skinner said. “Hundreds of sub-genres, millions of songs, but in the end we’re all just trying to be old, grizzled men singing with soul, hoping that people feel something with the music.”

Where: Pedestrian Mall Weatherdance Fountain Stage
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Admission: Free

Tallgrass with Natural Oil and the Ashe Brothers Band
Where: Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $7

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