Ben Bell is a fixture within the Baton Rouge songwriting scene.
In the past, he’s played old-time swinging tunes with the Retro Dukes and a bit of rockabilly/country with the Stardust Boys.
Now, he’s going in a different direction, teaming up with the Fugitive Poets, an acoustic quintet that’s been around for more than a decade.
“I wanted to put out some new material,” Bell said. “I love the Stardust Boys. I was just going in a different direction. I wanted to tell a story with my songs. I loved jamming with the Fugitive Poets. They can hang with just about anyone, and they’re cool people.”
Music lovers can see that new direction this weekend when Bell and the Fugitive Poets perform at Dyson House Listening Room at 7575 Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge. The show starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $10.
The Fugitive Poets started about 13 years ago. The band’s musical history and sound is rich, filled out by king of the barroom fiddlers Doc Chaney; mandolinist Alan Morton, who hails from just outside the Smoky Mountains; Heather Feierabend, who also plays in The Wilder Janes; banjo player Adrian Percy; and stand-up bassist Kat Carlson.
“Somehow, we stuck together,” Chaney said, laughing.
When Bell and the Poets combine forces, you hear a little bit of everything. There’s the Texas swing Morton grew up on, the psychedelic 1960s and 1970s music that Chaney loved, and the obscure retro tunes Bell loves.
“I like to say we play gutbucket jazz,” Bell said. “It’s music that has a heavy rhythmic beat. It’s not mellow, but more like jagged or gypsy jazz.”
But for Morton, the collaboration is focused on forwarding Bell’s original tunes.
“From the beginning, we wanted to be a part of Ben’s vision,” Morton said. “He’s been writing songs for a long time. We’re just trying to figure out how to fill up the space. He’s got a great ear.”
Saturday’s show will open with Bell doing a few solo tunes, then crescendo into a performance with the Poets backing him.
With Morton, everything has a background story. He’ll tell you about the first time he heard The Eagles’ b-side “21,” or how he met Chaney at an Irish party some 20 years ago.
Saturday’s show is no different. He has a little aside for that, too.
“When I go out to eat, I like to get a little bit of everything to see what the restaurant is all about,” Morton said. “That’s what Saturday will be like — a sampler.”
But there’s more to it.
The group’s music has a specific reverence for the past while creating original songs within those frameworks of gypsy jazz, traditional country and bluegrass.
There’s a little of bit of all the members’ musical history in each song.
“If you know the history, it comes out in the music,” Morton said. “I love that Texas swing, the blues and jazz … Music is kind of the theatre of the mind. You put whatever emotion you’ve got to those sounds you’re familiar with.”
Follow Matthew Sigur on Twitter, @MatthewSigur.