Tallgrass Express String Band has played in the Marion County area since it started in 2004, and like many bands, its line-up has changed over the years.
Last October the band added the sonic talents of Marion mandolin player Jim Versch to their group and he is now contributing musical ideas to a new album they are recording.
“There will be 26 songs but we only have 10 completed,” Versch said. “It is going to be a double album of all-original music.”
Tallgrass Express plays within many different genres including blue grass, cowboy, folk, and country, Versch said. However, he said they are not really a blue grass band and are best described as acoustic prairie music.
During live performances, the group also wears clothing turn of the century clothing Versch explained as “Little House on the Prairie” clothing or Civil War reenactment clothing.
Versch said the group gigs about three or four weekends in a month. However, since August the band has been recording on the off weekends at Exceptions Studio in Topeka with sound engineer Randy Wills.
“Randy is a master engineer,” Versch said. “This is the second album Tallgrass has recorded at his studio.”
Versch said that singer, guitarist and group founding member, Annie Wilson of Chase County has written most of the songs that will appear on the album. Bass player and singer Carl Reed of Manhattan also will contribute several songs, while multi-instrumentalist Charlie Laughridge will add his musical and vocals talents to the album.
Everyone but Versch sings in the band but he said he is responsible for generating his own parts. He provides solos, counter melodies, or harmonies with his mandolin depending on the song.
“I am really digging the CD a lot,” Versch said. “I am enjoying the heck out of it. When I first started with the band I learned ‘Loren’s parts’ — Loren Ratsloff, — to the old songs, now I’m playing ‘Jim’s parts’ and it is really validating.”
The recording process is both rewarding and humbling experience for Versch because during recording he can hear all the mistakes, but after they all nail their parts and a song is finished the music sounds so much better in the final mix.
Versch has played the mandolin since he was junior in high school back in 1974. He said he first started by playing popular acoustic based music of the time with friends. Since then Versch has played in a Celtic band from Nebraska and with the Prairie Goose Stompers.
He recently retired from 31 years of teaching art and coaching volleyball at Marion High school and as a result, he has had more time to play music with the band.
“This is one of the best groups of musicians I have ever played with,” Versch said. “They challenge me. I practice a lot.”
For more information about the band and their new album visit www.tallgrassexpress.com or their facebook page.