Belinda Underwood could spend hours rattling off a list of diverse influences that inspired her to make music.
“There’s so many that I don’t know where to start,” she said, citing Joni Mitchell, Franz Schubert and Billy Strayhorn, among many others.
But perhaps the biggest influence of all is the one that she shares with fellow multi-instrumentalist and musical partner Josiah Payne: family. Underwood’s mother is a jazz pianist, and Payne grew up in a musical household that jammed together at bluegrass festivals.
“Having that foundation has really opened our ears,” she said.
Local audiences will have a chance to hear that ear-opening and eclectic mix of bluegrass, jazz, old-time swing, traditional country music and even a touch of bossa nova, when the Portland-based musicians return to Moab this week. They’ll be playing a series of free performances at the Peace Tree Café at 20 S. Main St. on Thursday, Sept. 24; Saturday, Sept. 26; and Sunday, Sept. 27; all shows are set to run from 6 to 9:30 p.m.
While the duo holds most of its gigs in the Portland area, Underwood said she and Payne always find excuses to come to Moab and the Peace Tree.
“We feel right at home there,” she said.
The couple met when Underwood joined Payne in the bluegrass band Wayward Vessel, and they found that they shared a deep musical bond.
“I can’t speak 100 percent for Josiah, but I think I can say he’s like me in that regard,” she said. “He’s been exposed to a lot of different genres, and he just loves music.”
Underwood plays upright bass, as well as the violin, viola and baritone ukulele, while Payne is an award-winning mandolin player who also performs on guitar and violin. According to Underwood, their choice of instruments shapes the duo’s sound.
“If we had to call it anything, because of the instrumentation, we’d call it folk,” she said.
But the couple don’t stick to any one genre, in particular, she said.
“We just kind of make a mixture of the different music we like,” she said.
Underwood began her musical career playing classical music, and she later studied jazz in high school and college. Over the years, she estimates that she’s amassed 200 gigabytes of music on her computer’s hard drive, spanning from classical and Middle Eastern music to the complete Blue Note jazz recordings from the 1950s and 60s.
Payne formed a “newgrass” band with his brothers while he was still in his early teens, and the group went on to win first-place spots at festival contests in Telluride and Lyons, Colorado.
Together, Underwood and Payne combine original songs with the early American, Celtic and traditional songs they learned while performing with other musicians.
“We’ve taken some of these old traditions and used them as inspiration in creating new music,” she said.
When they aren’t performing side by side as a duo, they often pop up on each other’s recordings. Payne’s latest record, “Josiah Payne Musica Humana,” features Underwood on vocals and bass, and Payne previously performed mandolin and violin on “Belinda Underwood Look to the Skies.”
Local concert promoter John Baptist McGettigan of JBM More Music said he first heard the couple perform at the Peace Tree several years ago, and they began to strike up a friendship.
Now, whenever they come back to town, McGettigan does his best to get the word out about their shows.
“We love their music,” he said.
Copies of their recordings will be available for sale during their performances at the Peace Tree Café.
Belinda and Josiah to perform three shows in Moab this week
“We’ve taken some of these old traditions and used them as inspiration in creating new music.”
When: Thursday, Sept. 24; Saturday, Sept. 26; and Sunday, Sept. 27, from 6 to 9:30 p.m.
Where: Peace Tree Café, 20 S. Main St.
Cost: Performances are free; all ages welcome
To learn more about the duo, go to www.belindaunderwood.com/duo.html.