Thursday, October 21, 2010

Crooked Still Live

There are two things that separate Crooked Still from most bands typically classified in the bluegrass family. One is the presence of cello, formerly played by Rushad Eggleston but now capably handled by Tristan Clarridge. And the other unique weapon is the voice of Aoife O'Donovan. No one sings like Aoife O'Donovan.

Both these elements are on display in Crooked Still Live (unfortunately, this disc is only available at their live shows). The cello drives "Little Sadie," acts nearly as percussion in "Ain't No Grave," and provides broad swaths of darkness in "The Golden Vanity." O'Donovan shows similar variety. She plays it angelic in Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl," boisterous in "Lulu Gal," and sultry in Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen."

The dynamics in Clarridge's cello and O'Donovan's singing are indicative of Crooked Still's music. Add in Dr. Greg Liszt's inventive, melodic banjo, Corey DiMario's steady bass playing, and Brittany Haas' do-it-all fiddling, and they have all the pieces for a really dynamic band. And "dynamic" is the right word; most bluegrass-type music stays about the same volume, but Crooked Still swings wildly. A tune might start, as "Darling Corey" does, with O'Donovan's voice gentle over a Liszt banjo riff. DiMario's throbbing bass and Clarridge's chopping cello come in. Then we get Haas' soaring fiddle, and O'Donovan rising above accordingly. There's a real feel of controlled chaos.

Do you need Crooked Still live if you already have their other albums? Probably not, but there are some fine cuts on here, notably "Come On In My Kitchen" and a terrific duet version of Bill Monroe's "Can't You Hear Me Callin'" with Laurie Lewis. There aren't any 12-minute freakouts on here, for better or worse, and most tracks sound more-or-less as they do on the album. Stilll, it's a great introduction to Crooked Still's music and a fine disc to have in the collection.

Crooked Still Official Site

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