With its sparkling fiddle arpeggios and smoky vocals, the opening song, “Wandering,” sweeps listeners into Adventures in Vagabondia, the fifth album from Taarka, the high-energy musical brainchild of mandolinist David Pelta-Tiller and violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller. Conceived in New York City in 2001, Taarka has toured extensively over the past decade, stopping in Portland, OR, for a stint before settling in Lyons, CO, in 2006. Yet the group’s artistic soul floats above geographic boundaries—part of the great collective of musicians who criss-cross the country, constantly revitalizing and reframing the sounds of Americana. It is this world (as well as an 1894 collection of poems by Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey titled Songs from Vagabondia) that inspired the title and eclectic mix of tunes that ensues.
“I like the way that ‘Vagabondia’ makes you think of a country, it evokes this community of people that travels around making music,” explains Enion.
Categorizing Taarka’s music, which borrows and builds on global folk, classical and jazz traditions, is mostly an unnecessary exercise. “We don’t want to be pigeon-holed into any one category,” says David. “Although we played mostly Gypsy music at the beginning, there is really only a hint of that on this album. We’re still essentially a family that travels, but we’re playing more Americana string music and string jazz these days.”
From the Bulgarian kopanitsa rhythms of “Nubus Nimbus” to the Nola-flavored “You’re All Right” and a twangy bluegrass cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s folk classic “The Way I Feel,” Adventures in Vagabondia recounts a series of vignettes that highlight the string band’s airtight songwriting, virtuosic chops, myriad influences and infectious vocal lines.
Along for the ride is long-time collaborator, bassist Troy Robey, and a dozen fellow travelers that include new-acoustic pioneer and fiddler Darol Anger (Turtle Island Quartet, Republic of Strings), guitarists Grant Gordy (David Grisman Quintet) and Tyler Grant (Winfield National Flatpicking Champion), and members of Elephant Revival and the Matt Flinner Trio.
David Pelta-Tiller, a versatile picker raised in Virginia on a steady diet of bluegrass, Celtic, classical and jazz, and wife Enion Pelta-Tiller, a classically-trained violinist who can switch seamlessly between Bartók and bebop (not to mention Gypsy jazz, punk, rock, bluegrass…) began their journey together in 2001. After meeting at a Brooklyn Browngrass gig, the two began a Gypsy jazz busker act in the New York City subway before hitting the road as Taarka. As the years have gone by, Taarka’s personnel has been in constant evolution, as has its musical core. From its beginnings as a purely instrumental string band putting a modern spin on Gypsy and Eastern European folk music, Taarka has drawn in wide-ranging influences during its decade-long existence. Since landing in Lyons, CO—known for its bluegrass and new acoustic scene—Taarka has taken on a decidedly American aura. This is evidenced throughout Adventures in Vagabondia with American folk songs and forms bubbling up through the musical mélange.