Mr. Baber's Neighbors "The Solar String Band"
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Mr. Baber's Neighbors "The Solar String Band"

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"Mr. Baber's Neighbors - The Solar String Band"

November 2006 issue]
Baberhood Records, No Number.

Mr. Baber's Neighbors is a four-piece bluegrass group from the Midwest consisting of Jeff Blanchard (guitar and vocals), Mike Tallman (mandolin and vocals), Paul Perkins (banjo and vocals), and Jerry Hoehle (bass and vocals). For their latest recording venture, they are assisted by banjoist Bob Black and Larry Beem (resonator guitar). The 14 selections include familiar numbers like "White House Blues" and "Nine Pound Hammer." However, most of the selections are original pieces like "Scene Stolen," "Just Like In A Country Song," and the instrumental "Ode To Jones" (inspired by a pet cat). This is a captivating collection of bluegrass music that should find a wide audience far beyond their Midwest roots. (Baberhood, 1023 Kirkwood Ave., Des Moines, IA 50315, - Bluegrass Unlimited

"Pleased to meet you Mr. Baber's Neighbors"

If it weren’t for the hint of country, folk and roots-rock music in their Midwestern bluegrass sound (not that that’s a bad thing), you might be tempted to check the IDs of Des Moines’ Mr. Baber’s Neighbors to verify that they hail from Iowa and not Kentucky because they’re so dedicated to the high-lonesome sound founded there years ago by Bill Monroe.

Then again, a love of music need not be tethered by geographical or generational bounds, as Mr. Baber’s Neighbors guitarist Jeff Blanchard — who grew up in Wisconsin, then moved to Des Moines in 1994 — will attest. “I heard a lot of country and watched a lot of ‘Hee-Haw,’” he says. “I still have a cassette of the ‘Deliverance’ soundtrack.”

Bluegrass music didn’t resonate with Blanchard until he stumbled across the Grateful Dead while attending college. Like a lot of new-grass musicians, the 36-year-old Blanchard was attracted to the Dead’s organic, acoustic sound. So he attended their concerts, bought their albums and traced their roots to their jug band origins, unveiling founder Jerry Garcia’s passion for bluegrass and other Americana forms.

“The idea of Jerry being such a complicated musician in that one minute he could play ‘Dark Star’ and the next he would play banjo intrigued me,” Blanchard says. “I wanted to learn more about him, which led me to Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Those traditional songs touched a lot of people because they were simple and people could relate to them. They touched something in me I haven’t let go of yet.”

Fast-forward to 2001, when one night Blanchard, bassist Jerry Hoehle and banjoist Paul Perkins are casually picking tunes on their acoustic instruments. Their jam-rock group the Norman Stagger Band had just splintered but they soon found a common interest in bluegrass. “We realized we had something, but we weren’t looking to jump into anything or play any shows,” Blanchard recalls. One week later, they were playing their first gig, opening a show at a club in Ames, and their path was set. “Everything just fell into our laps,” he says.

During the past five years, the group’s founding trio has stayed intact while rotating musicians for a fourth spot. Mandolin player Mike Tallman joined the group after an impromptu jam one evening. Though he plays on the band’s 2006 debut album “The Solar String Band (see photo),” Tallman is mostly devoted to his world-music group Euforquestra, giving Mr. Baber’s Neighbors the opportunity to play with guest artists.

“Mike’s a very talented musician and he’s helped us make strides,” Blanchard says. “But it’s enabled us to play with other good musicians and fine fellows, too, like Larry Beem [dobro], Bob Black [veteran banjoist who played with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys during the ’70s] and Rob Wheeler [Lefthand String Band which later became Leftover Salmon].

“That’s what’s great about bluegrass music. It’s not about the business or the egos, it’s about the music.”

That selfless, ensemble approach is what drives “The Solar String Band” to such impressive heights. It’s the group’s debut album on their own label, Baberhood Records Inc., and its 14 tracks include admirable renditions of traditional tunes like “Little Cabin Home on the Hill,” “Nine Pound Hammer” and “Whitehouse Blues.” They co-exist alongside original foot-stompin’ instrumentals (“Sugar,” “Polk County Breakdown”), witty ditties (“Just Like A Country Song”) and heartfelt vocals with tight harmonies (“Midnight Run,” “Deep River Waltz”).

“We’re a band, we’re not about individuals,” Blanchard says.

They’re also not content to be mere imitators, he says, as they strive to put their own stamp on the music.

“We didn’t want to copy anybody,” Blanchard says. “We wanted to be in the styling of bluegrass, but do it our own way.”

Mr. Baber’s Neighbors has carved a niche for itself with its own sound, but it’s also universal enough to attract fans of all walks of life and all ages.

“We want people to have as much fun listening to it as we do playing it,” Blanchard says. “It jumps boundaries of ages. It’s everybody’s music.” - City View Magazine


Self Titled Debut: Mr. Baber's Neighbor's "The Solar String Band"



From the flatlands of the Midwest comes a band of urban hillbillies who joined the bluegrass revolution and set out to bring the high mountain sounds to those seeking a respite from the daily grind. The Solar String Band was established in the living room of Mr. Baber's Neighbor with the intentions of nothing more than a good time. With the release of their self-titled album, Mr. Baber's Neighbors: The Solar String Band offers their own interpretation of the bluegrass experience.

From the traditional, high lonesome sounds of days gone by, jugband music, rags and reels, to the modern jamgrass arena, MBN:TSSB takes the listener on a musical journey which connects them to the roots of the genre while opening rhythmic doors to the future. Armed with Banjo, Guitar, Mandolin, Dobro and a Bass Fiddle, Mr. Baber's Neighbors adds organic, heartfelt harmonies to complete their wholesome sound.

If given the chance, don't miss out on a true knee slappin', down home hootenanny and your special opportunity to become a member of the Baberhood!!!

Mr. Baber's Neighbors: The Solar String Band has shared the stage with many fine artists including:

- Tony Furtado
- Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon, Great American Taxi)
- Ekoostik Hookah
- Railroad Earth
- Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon, Left Hand String Band)
- Split Lip Rayfield
- Special Concensus
- The Breakfast
- The Derek Trucks Band
- Bob Black (Bill Monroe)
- Hot Buttered Rum String Band
- Cornmeal
- Greensky Bluegrass
- Rebirth Brass Band
- Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

and many, many others...

MBN:TSSB has also performed at numerous Festivals/Venues including:

- Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival
- 80/35 Music Festival
- Camp Euforia
- DMMC's Little Big Fest
- SPBGMA sponsored festivals
- Des Moines' Arts Fest
- Iowa State Fair
- Hoyt Sherman Place
- Minnesota State University-Mankato