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Matt Sheehy and the Menders

Songwriter Matt Sheehy says his music has never sounded better. The acoustic pop artist has teamed up with some like-minded musicians in Portland, and the group has been getting rave reviews for performances at venues such as the Doug Fir Lounge and Mississippi Studios.

"Those are two of the best-sounding rooms in Portland," Sheehy says. "Classical Revolution PDX (a freestyle chamber music group also based in the Rose City) sat in with us for the show at Mississippi Studios, along with our friend Ryan Dolliver (guitar and keys). With nine musicians, it really gave us a full sound, and the arrangements were great."

Sheehy and his band will perform at 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, at Alex's, 35 N. Main St., Ashland.

Sheehy moved to Portland in 1999 from Juneau, Alaska.

"There's not much of a music scene in Juneau," Sheehy says. He formed a duo called Gravity & Henry and recorded two albums, "Pisces" in 2000 and "Traveling Companion" in 2003, before shifting his focus to a solo project. He soon found himself drawn to talents in Portland that used instruments such as French horn, glockenspiel, electric piano, violin and viola.

Sheehy went to work on an album of orchestrated, songwriter-based acoustic pop titled "Tigerphobia" that he released on his independent label, Revolve Records, last year. "Tigerphobia" features Andy Parker on drums, Tom Dietzel on bass and Brent Knoff of the band called Menomena! playing vibes. The album was pressed to vinyl in March by American Typewriter Records, based in Barcelona, Spain.

"The Spanish label offered us a great deal, and we took it," Sheehy says. "They probably picked us off the Web."

"Tigerphobia" holds 11 songs penned by Sheehy that are styled after artists such as Andrew Bird, Coldplay and The National.

"I draw a lot from Sufjan Stevens, too," Sheehy says. "His music is more repetitive than ours. Ours is more centered around the story and the melodic idea, but we use orchestral instruments just as Stevens does."

Sheehy's touring band, the Menders, includes drummer Drew Shoals, bassist Michael Papillo and Jen Harrison on French horn.

"It's a diverse group," Sheehy says. "Michael plays with 3 Leg Torso (a chamber ensemble), Drew plays with Pat Monahan of the rock band Train and Jen plays with the Portland Opera.

"We play my songs, but everyone brings their own into it," Sheehy says. "This current lineup has added more to the music. The songs feel sentimental, and we're telling the stories better than they've ever been told. I'm lucky to have these players with me. It's the kind of music I've always wanted to play."

Sheehy and The Menders' shows also include loops and layers of live guitar and bass lines to make the band sound fuller.

"We will play everything from 'Tigerphobia' at Alex's," Sheehy says. "Along with some new unrecorded songs. We'll also have a limited number of live CDs from the Mississippi Studios show available."

Cover is $3 for the show at Alex's. Call 482-8818.

Songwriter Matt Sheehy has teamed up with like-minded musicians to perform orchestrated, acoustic pop. - Photo by Alicia Rose