After a decade of energetic concerts and enthusiastic crowds, Café Musique is saluting the spirit of spring with a new album, a new lineup and a new outlook.
The genre-bending group will celebrate the release of its third CD, “Half Step Behind,” with five concerts, held at various venues in Cambria, Los Osos, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
Violinist Brynn Albanese and her bandmates, accordion player Duane Inglish, bass player Fred Murray and guitarist Craig Nuttycombe, will be joined on stage by several local luminaries who appear at the album.
According to Inglish, Café Musique started work on “Half Step Behind” about two years ago. But the band decided to put the album — which takes its title from one of Nuttycombe’s original songs — on hold to focus on touring overseas and at home.
Then, four or five months ago, percussionist and vocalist Piper Heisig announced that she was retiring.
“Musically speaking, it was a big change for us to accommodate,” Inglish said, noting that Heisig had performed and recorded with the band for five and a half years. She also produced Café Musique’s first two albums, 2008’s “The Dancer” and 2010’s “Catching Your Breath.”
With Heisig’s departure, the band came to an important realization.
“We realized that we need to finish this CD,” Albanese said. “We loved those tunes. We didn’t want to just say ‘adios’ to them.”
As Murray assumed the role of producer, Café Musique decided to enlist the help of the Central Coast music community at large — reaching out to such notable folks as multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven, singer-songwriter Jill Knight and Grammy Award-winning guitarist Louie Ortega.
Craven, who accompanied Café Musique on a Portugal river cruise in May 2013, plays mandolin and percussion on three tracks: the gypsy jazz tunes “Tchavolo Swing” and “Nuages,” and the atmospheric “Blues for Dave.”
Ortega and his daughter, Talia, sing on the lively Mexican polka tune “Jesusita en Chihuahua,” while Knight contributes vocals to the darkly lovely ballad “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us.”
Other guest artists include Tony Clements on tuba, Eric Williams on bouzouki, and Inglish’s daughter, Erin Inglish, on banjo. (Heisig performs on all tracks but one, singing and playing percussion, ukulele and banjo ukulele.)
“The opportunity to bring in local musicians was such a rich experience for us,” Duane Inglish said. “It’s given us a lot of ideas. It’s given us some direction on where we want to take the band next.”
Inglish described “Half Step Behind,” with its blend of classical, folk, tango and other flavors, as a “true expression of what we really believe in musically.”
“We feel we can take anything on, from a Jewish dance tune to a classical piece to a Mexican polka … and actually make it fit,” he said.
“The music is our language,” he added. “It’s what we communicate with. It’s how we connect. That’s what makes it such a pleasure to perform.”
Albanese agreed that “Half Step Behind” showcases the group’s variety, as well as its ability to keep audiences entranced.
“This one just rocks and rolls,” she said. “You’re tapping your foot and you’re snapping your fingers and you’re singing along.”
Speaking about the future of Café Musique, both bandmates anticipate a time of expansion and self-exploration.
“We have to look at our strengths are at the moment,” Albanese said, which, for her, means concentrating on the core quartet’s instrumental abilities. “We’ll leave the vocal stuff until we’ve found someone who has that wow factor.”
Although Café Musique is working with a few guest percussionists and vocalists, including singer/vocal coach Deanna Delore and Zongo All-Stars drummer Jennings Jacobsen, the band members won’t pick full-time replacements until they’ve spent plenty of stage time with the candidates, Albanese added.
Albanese and Inglish also discussed expanding the band’s already large repertoire.
“We always have our eyes set on new genres,” Albanese said. “There’s a whole world out there of new music.”
“We don’t have any visions of grandeur or touring on the road,” she added, although Café Musique is planning a riverboat trip to the Netherlands in April 2015. “All we want is to keep moving forward.”
IF YOU GO
7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday Cambria Center for the Arts, 1350 Main St., Cambria
2 p.m. April 26 Trinity United Methodist Church, 490 Los Osos Valley Road, Los Osos
2 p.m. April 27 Vina Robles Winery & Vineyards, 3700 Mill Road, Paso Robles
2 p.m. May 3 Steynberg Gallery, 1531 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo
748-3569 or www.cafemusique.org
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.