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Crooked Still

Some Strange Country – 2010 (Signature Sounds)

Reviewed by Nelson Gullett

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CDs by Crooked Still

With their new album, Crooked Still once again provides a perfect template for a sound that pays homage to traditional forms of folk and bluegrass music while still managing to sound unlike anything that has come before them. Their lineup featuring Greg Liszt on banjo, Brittany Haas on fiddle, and the unusual combo of Tristan Clarridge on cello and Corey DiMario on double bass allows the band to play in a lower register than many traditional outfits and lends an ominous sense of foreboding to many of their songs.

That sense is only heightened by the ghostly voice of vocalist Aoife O'Donovan. Especially when taking on some of the darker subject matter that seems to be present throughout the disc. Whether tackling the traditional maritime tragedy of The Golden Vanity or the classic murder ballad Henry Lee, O'Donovan's voice sets the mood perfectly for each track.

O'Donovan has some help in places as well. Ricky Skaggs adds a bit of a high lonesome harmony to the low and lonesome sea of The Golden Vanity, and Tim O'Brien sings of sorrow in I'm Troubled and redemption in Calvary. Rising Americana songstress Sarah Jarosz helps on two songs including O'Donovan's chilling original Half of What We Know, and Annalisa Tornfelt of Black Prairie adds a whispered harmony to You Were Gone.

Many songs collected here are traditional tunes that long time fans of the genre have likely heard many times before. It's doubtful, though, that they've ever heard them quite like this. Even when tackling more contemporary fare, as with O'Donovan's soulful reading of The Rolling Stone's You Got the Silver, Crooked Still's unique instrumentation and gift for interpretation deliver a sound that should satisfy traditionalists and progressives alike.