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music: Stripped-Down Sound

Tarbox Ramblers blend obscure acoustic sounds with new ones to create their unique Americana.


"It comes from my fondness for acoustic music," he says. "I was looking to play with people who had the same [desire] to take the old sound and connect it with a new sound. [But] it's not as though we play a hillbilly song and follow it with a jazz number. All these types of music share things in common."

During the past four years, the band has successfully mined this commonality guided by influences as diverse as old-time banjo master Dock Boggs, contemporary-jazz innovator Henry Threadgill and blues guitarist Bukka White. He doesn't claim to be an expert in 20th-century American music, but Tarbox has a strong appreciation for its diversity and depth.

"I think of myself as someone who grew up listening to older music," he says. "I feel like I understand some songs, [but] I'm not an expert on who did what."

Tarbox has just recently started writing songs for the band. The new recording will contain seven or eight of his tunes in addition to obscure covers.

After growing up in a number of punk and "almost 'noise' bands," guitarist and singer Tarbox shifted to a less aggressive, acoustic-based musical approach about 10 years ago, playing with a large "assembly of friends." Playing with the multimember group became difficult. Looking to simplify, Tarbox found a drummer, an acoustic bass player and fiddler who shared his enthusiasm for earthy sounds, and the Tarbox Ramblers was born. The band soon latched on to two steady gigs in the Cambridge area. A Boston Globe writer caught an early show and wrote a short piece. Soon crowds at both venues zoomed from 30 to 150 fans and friends. Rounder Records came calling in 1999. Suddenly the band found itself in the studio and on a different level.

Tarbox recalls the early days with fondness. "It was sort of a 'golden era' for us," he says. "It was kind of a party. It was all very unexpected."

Tarbox describes the band as a "dance band." But getting booked into a wide range of venues requires flexibility and Tarbox says his band is used to lots of configurations. We'll see which configuration shows at Ashland Coffee & Tea this Thursday. But new sounds will no doubt connect with old songs. S

The Tarbox Ramblers play Ashland Coffee &Tea Thursday, April 24, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and available through

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