Locals Only: : American Pi

Local Shepherd's Pi have something eclectic stewing

Apr 13, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Sara Beiting

Shepherd's Pi

This is Shepherd's Pi like you've never experienced, an organic recipe made from scratch with some R&B, Gospel, Bluegrass and Jazz folded into the Rock & Roll medley. Not to be confused with the edible entity, this eclectic equation is divided into six factors: Jen Shepherd on lead vocals, mandolin and flute; Amos Hopkins on bass; John Redell on electric guitar and vocals; Katherine Monnig on drums; Todd Juengling on acoustic guitar and vocals; and Brook Reindollar on horn.

"It's all home-cooked, an all-you-can-eat buffet of music," Hopkins says. "You clean the plate or we'll clean it for you."

Indeed a buffet, Shepherd's Pi strive to satisfy your hunger for music in a way that'll have you coming back for seconds. They swing freely from the classic Jazz Lounge of the '40s and the Gospel Blues to deep-jive Funk and honky-tonk Americana Bluegrass. Even a Celtic flute intros Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," honoring an Irish sentiment.

Although the regular six-slice serving might not always be readily available due to constant lineup shifts, be assured that there's plenty to go around for everyone. Each helping is sealed with the smooth and sultry molasses of Shepherd's vocals, which glean from the varied likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Gillian Welch and Jen Durkin. That's to be expected, with the expansive scope of musical genres this band encompasses.

"Every show we play is going to be a little different ... every circle is a little different," Shepherd says. "The players may change, (but) it's still round with a circumference. It's still a circle."

The band sifted through four bass players when Hopkins tripped around the world for more than half a year, including Jeff Roades, who is on the band's live recording from the Covington club Jazzmania released last year. Jay "Cactus Lips" Ensminger of the Gregory Morris Group pinch-hit on tenor saxophone for Brook at that same show. I've also seen Michael McIntire of Marmalade Brigade jump into the gumbo, adding Tom Waits-esqe vocals to complement Shepherd's harmony.

Whether it be the layered spectrum of musical styles or the variety of musicians stylizing the layered spectrum, there is a luminous tone underlying the Shepherd's Pi vision. Call it a Pi-losophy: dedication and authenticity through the course of this musical consciousness. Honoring the ebb and flow of life creates striking stretches and gritty grooves in each performance. They learn and fuse from experiences both on and off stage, remaining open to anything new that might follow.

"The songs aren't done, they're still evolving," Redell explains. "I'm inspired by the people I hang with, the company I keep. The company I keep — remember that."

Solid unspoken communication and camaraderie on stage allows for highly inspirational and improvisational shows reflective of the fluid sensations perceived and felt by each musician. They pride themselves on solo strength, and within any number of tunes there's a freedom to pick up and pass along the flow to each other. You can clearly see the back-up support from the other bandmates as they take in the creative groove of a solo with the crowd. And what some might consider mistakes the Pi look to as opportunities to play magicians creating magical moments.

"Even after near-death, we'll keep playing until the song is done," Monnig confirms.

Have I mentioned dedication? I asked these guys when they considered a show successful, and they came back with a uniform notion.

"Staying true to value (while) reaching one person," Juengling says.

SHEPHERD'S PI (shepherdspi.com) plays Sunday at Cooper's on Main and April 23 at Arlin's.