Songwriting duo’s music has Irish roots | SteamboatToday.com

Songwriting duo’s music has Irish roots

Arty Smith/For Steamboat Today

The duo of Moors and McCumber will perform Saturday night at the Chief Theater.

— Sometimes in the life of a musician or a band, you just have to stop what you're doing and go for it. James Moors and Kort McCumber, who will be playing at the Chief Theatre Saturday in Steamboat Springs as part of the Songwriter Series, have had several such moments in their musical careers.

The first came in 2005 at the Songwriter School at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons.

"James was playing a song," recalled McCumber from his Boulder home. "I added some bouzouki and then added some harmony. Right away, we were able to sing like sibling harmony, which you rarely find outside of a family."

They had both pursued their own solo careers and mostly played in bars. In fact, both played in Steamboat several times as solo performers, separately at the Old Town Pub and Moors at Colorado Mountain College. Both had adventures in Steamboat, McCumber finding a wife in Clark and Moors having a friend trip a fire alarm that resulted in a complete hotel evacuation.

The pair did occasional guest appearances at each other's shows. Several years later, they made their next career pivot.

"I convinced Kort to become a duo," Moore said.

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At first, it was a struggle on the road.

"We would do a five week tour in bars and come home with maybe $1,000," Moore added.

They knew they needed to make a change.

"We were doing 90 percent bars, 10 percent concerts, and I wanted to change that," Moors said. "We had a lot of arguments about that."

McCumber feared they would lose all their income. He was in for a surprise.

"We focused on booking concerts," continued Moors. "In one year, we were doing 90 percent concerts, had more structured tours, were doing more and better concerts and playing in bigger rooms."

In 2011, they made another leap and did their first tour of Ireland.

"A lot of our stuff is influenced by Scottish and Irish music," said McCumber. "We knew we both had Irish ancestry, but the people embraced us in two seconds. We had incredible Irish musicians with us. We took on their influence in our writing, and now, we play more instruments. What was really neat was that we started getting more gigs back in the States. Now, it's taken on a whole life of its own. We did two Irish tours in 2015 and 2016 and have four scheduled for both 2017 and 2018."

Almost all of Moors' and McCumber's tunes are co-written.

"James is the lyrical, melody guy," McCumber said. "My strength is harmonies and instruments. The flow works, because it's not just guitars. At first, James was worried that all of the instruments would be taking away from the show."

Moors added, "I wanted to make sure the instruments were not distracting from the singing. The dynamics of changing instruments adds more color to the show. It keeps us grounded and makes for a more interesting show."

For the record, the duo plays guitar, ukulele, bouzouki, harmonica, cello, fiddle, piano, mandolin, accordion, Irish tenor banjo, weissenborn and more. They frequently change instruments from song to song in an impressive display of virtuosity.

The future for Moors and McCumber looks bright, indeed.

"We're on a tear," Moors said, "We're making a new record every year. We're touring two weeks on, two weeks off for the last couple of years."

Their next album, which they'll release March 17, St. Patrick's Day, was recorded in Ireland.

"It is called 'Aisling' pronounced Ashling," McCumber said. "An aisling is a type of song in the Irish tradition, which is about a dream had by an emigrant about being back home in Ireland among familiar landscape and friends. It definitely has an Irish feel to it, but it is rooted firmly in Americana.

"The momentum has definitely picked up," continued McCumber. "We have more fans, better gigs. We're doing it completely our own way, our own journey. We're not promoting or booking first. We're putting our time into our skill set. We're ready on any stage, if we keep writing great songs."

If you go:

What: Songwriter Series: Moors and McCumber, featuring Strangebyrds

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb.25

Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.

Cost: $15, available at All That and at chieftheater.com