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Steep Ravine, T Sisters play the Unitarian Fellowship

Bay Area band Steep Ravine is not so much moving away from its acoustic bluegrass roots as it is taking the genre in compelling new directions.

Principal songwriter Simon Linsteadt (guitar, lead vocals) and Jan Purat (fiddle, vocals) were studying music at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley when they met Alex Bice (bass, percussion, vocals) in early 2013.

The trio didn't waste time recording its debut studio project, "Trampin' On," independently released later the same year. The album picked up decent reviews. Bluegrass Today described it as bluegrass that embraces its connections to jazz and folk music.

"Steep Ravine has a tight grasp on the second side of bluegrass," wrote correspondent John Goad for Bluegrass Today. " 'Trampin' On' is easygoing and peaceful, yet still features fine musicianship, enjoyable melodies and a unique blend of acoustic genres."

With the soon-to-be-released "The Pedestrian," Steep Ravine's members dive further into their collective influences.

"With Alex playing percussion, drums and bass on the new record, we bring most of the music deeper into the folk and jazz realms," Linsteadt says. "Jan, who grew up learning classical music, is applying compositional ideas along with his trademark improvisational solos, and my songwriting is exploring such influences as James Taylor, Vince Guaraldi, Neil Young and Tony Rice.

"The new record will be full of pleasant surprises," Linsteadt says. "I think it will demonstrate what we're capable of as musicians, songwriters and instrumentalists."

Steep Ravine will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Unitarian Fellowship, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. Mandolin player Adam Roszkiewicz will join the band. Sassy folk, country, gospel and jazz singing group T Sisters will open the show. Tickets cost $20 in advance and can be purchased online at gaiaconcerts.com or Music Coop, 268 E. Main St. Tickets will cost $22 at the door. Call 541-708-0715 for information.

While "Trampin' On" is basically a bluegrass record, Linsteadt says, "The Pedestrian" moves closer to various musical genres and takes on a quality that is complex and emotive.

"Its themes may be a bit darker," he says. "I think it will take listeners on a journey through a wider breadth of influences. 

"I wrote the title track after I noticed a pedestrian-crossing sign while walking through Santa Cruz one morning," he says. "It was right after we'd released our first album. I was struck by how anonymous the word pedestrian is, so the song is based on the idea of waking up one day to discover you have no past, nothing to base your day on, no impressions, and how liberating that might feel, but at the same time lacking any distinction."

Other songs on "The Pedestrian," such as the psychedelic folk tune "Grenadine" and the bluegrass-influenced "Shadow of a Cloud" — Linsteadt plays banjo on this one — explore what he considers the opposite of the title track.

"On 'Grenadine,' I was experimenting with lyrics," he says. "The focus was on the sounds of words, and I was trying to paint a picture with words that would be more impressionistic than a story line. It was an experiment with poetry.

"The lyrics inspired the music for 'Shadow of a Cloud': 'I tried to stand on the faultline, I tried to run down the shadow of a cloud.' Those two things give form to a sense of grapplling with trying to achieve things that are just out of reach," he says.

Once "The Pedestrian" is released, Steep Ravine wants to get it out to as many listeners as possible and get on the road.

"I think we'll take some new turns with this record," Linsteadt says. "We're excited about it."

Left to right: Jan Purat, Simon linsteadt and Alex Bice are Steep Ravine. Photo courtesy of Alex Akamine