Entertainment

Old country is the Starhaven Rounders' new poison

The music coming from a home in a south Kansas City cul-de-sac is of another era.

Inside the house, down in the basement, a band is rehearsing for a fast-approaching gig, only its second ever and its first as a headliner.

Its six members are arrayed in a circle, adding some polish to the songs on the set list, classic-country tunes such as “Another Day, Another Dollar,” “Jackson,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “Tennessee Flat Top Box.”

The band calls itself the Starhaven Rounders, a name that’s new to the local scene. But anyone who frequents the music venues in Westport or downtown should recognize most of its members, all of whom are in at least one other band or music project.

Wade Williamson is the drummer. The lead singers are Kirsten Paludan and Adam Stafford, who also plays guitar. Bill Sundahl plays electric bass and takes the occasional lead vocal. The lead guitarist is Mike Alexander. And Colm Chomicky is the guy behind the pedal steel guitar.

Except for Chomicky, who has been playing classic country for years around Kansas City (and is vice president of the Heartland Steel Guitar Association), the Rounders are newcomers to this music, at least new to performing it live.

“I heard this kind of music a lot when I was a kid,” said Sundahl, who grew up in southern Missouri. “You couldn’t get away from it. But I hated it. I’d be like ‘Where’s my Poison?’

“Now, I love it.”

Williamson grew up around it, too, thanks to his dad, who played in a country band and for years hosted a weekly jam at a bar in Shawnee called the Ribbon Room. His dad also threw a jam session every summer on property outside Warrensburg. Two summers ago, for the first time, Williamson joined in.

“They all knew I played music, but they’d never seen me play,” he said. “I’d just sit and listen. A couple years ago, turnout was pretty light, so I sat behind the drums and jammed with them. I decided the next year, I’d put some people together and go out there and jam.”

So he recruited friends from his music circles, starting with Paludan, a longtime friend and a bandmate in Olympic Size and a new project, the Key Party.

“I wanted to do a lot of duets,” Williamson said. “So much of this kind of music is male-dominant. Not many bands are doing the duets or showing the female side of it. I knew Kirsten would be perfect.”

Most of this music is entirely new to her, Paludan said, and learning it has been like going back to school.

“(It) has actually made me a better musician and put me back in touch with the vocal techniques and training I learned in college,” she said. “Many of the songs on our set list are very hard to sing unless your breathing and diaphragm are connected and your whole body is working.”

At his father’s outdoor jam session this year, Williamson brought along Chomicky, whom he’d recruited via the Internet, and some friends from the KC music scene. “We ended up jamming for six hours straight,” Williamson said. “After that we started getting together every Tuesday to jam.”

The lineup changed several times until several weeks ago, when Alexander joined. The Friday before New Year’s Eve, this version of the band played its first gig, opening for Kelley Hunt at the Beaumont Club.

“Mike’s a great guitarist who can play about any style,” Williamson said. “We’re real lucky to have Bill, who can sing lead, too. I heard Adam sing and play guitar about four years ago, but I remembered it. He has a great voice for country music, and he and Kirsten sound great together.”

Williamson assigned himself to play drums because, “I didn’t want to ask someone else to come in just to go kick-snare, kick-snare all night.” He finds songs for the band by going through his father’s record collection and songbook, picking out a mix of standards and rarities.

“His songbook is as thick as a Bible, and he can play every song in it,” Williamson said, “but we stumped him with one of our songs: ‘Long Walk Off a Tall Rock.’ ”

It’s a whip-smart song from a relatively obscure George Jones duets album called “I’ll Share My World With You,” and Stafford and Paludan deliver it with the appropriate amount of sass and defiance.

It has become a band favorite and one it’s likely to play Saturday night when it headlines a show at the Brick, 1727 McGee St. The Rounders may be a side project for everyone in the band, but each has gleaned something worthwhile from spending time with so many good songs.

“None of us really like the new guard of country music,” Stafford said. “It doesn’t have the feel of these old songs.”

“I’ve learned so much about composition and the roots of this music,” Williamson said. “It comes down to lyrics and the songwriting. You can throw chords around all you want. Words are what people remember most.”

“There is a reason that people still listen to and love this music,” Paludan said. “Great stories that are straightforward, heartbreaking, hilarious and honest. Simple yet effective (chord) progressions. And, for the most part, incredible voices.”

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