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Crooked Still

Friends of Fall – 2011 (Signature Sounds)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Crooked Still

After a decade of developing a following as a band with one foot in tradition and the other in more contemporary sounds, Crooked Still plans on taking the next year or so off the road to catch their collective breaths and reflect on what may or may not lie on the road ahead. Three original members remain: lead vocalist Aoife O'Donovan, banjo player Greg Liszt and bassist Corey DiMario, and they are joined on this 7-track EP sendoff by fiddler Brittany Haas and cello player Tristan Clarridge.

In keeping with the breadth of their interests over the years, the material ranges from traditional fare like When Sorrows Encompass Me 'Round, to classic old country songs from writers like Hazel Dickens (Pretty Bird) and John Hartford (Morning Bugle), to more modern fare like Lennon and McCartney (We Can Work It Out) and Paul Simon (American Tune). While they are clearly fine musicians, and the disc is cleanly and nicely produced, the overall effect is curiously lacking in energy and feeling, with the exception of some wonderful interplay between Haas and Liszt on a few tracks, notably the Hartford tune and Liszt's It'll End Too Soon. And, Haas' fiddle is fittingly mournful on the Dickens piece. Overall, though, "Friends of Fall" strikes the ear more as a recital than as a concert performance.

The centerpiece of the band's sound remains O'Donovan's distinctive breathy, haunting vocals. She's very good here, but just seems to be stuck in a lower, mellower gear. She's capable of so much more, and it would be nice to hear her - and the band - stretch themselves out.