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Crooked Still comes home again

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., July 17, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Crooked Still underwent a big change from the last time they played their home base, but that did not necessarily leave the acoustic, rootsy band worse for wear. With a very strong new CD, "Still Crooked" out, Crooked Still generally was in fine form with their mix of acoustic, bluegrass-based music during their second show of the night and first in the Boston area with this line-up.

Gone was Rushad Eggleston, a key ingredient of Crooked Still's sound. Apparently he was so big that it took two people to replace him. Brittany Haas, a Princeton student, plays fiddle, while local player Tristan Clarridge is on cello. Both are up to the task with Haas a particular standout. She spiced many of the songs played throughout the evening with a lot of clean, sometimes fast lines (the traditional "Shady Grove").

This is a band comprised of very strong players. Chief among them is banjo player Greg Liszt, who also earned his stripes touring with Bruce Springsteen. Liszt simply is one hell of a banjo player, who breathes tremendous life into the instrument. He could not be accused of overplaying, but still displays a tremendous amount of flair.

About the only negative was that O'Donovan's vocals sometimes were buried in the mix ("Florence" off the new CD). The band apparently may have suffered from arriving too late for the first show to do a sound check. Fortunately, O'Donovan's voice was heard most of the time, and O'Donovan owns a very pretty, expressive voice, reminiscent of Alison Krauss. "The Absentee," from "Still Crooked," was faster and more vocally intense than the recorded version. O'Donovan is an unassuming front person, but turns it on vocally on such songs as Ola Belle Reed's "Undone in Sorrow," (the band actually met her son, who loved their version) "Oh, Agamemnon" and Crooked Still's take on "Orphan Girl," which was faster than Gillian Welch's.

While they do a fair amount of their own writing, Crooked Still also turned in very strong readings of Dylan's "Oxford Town" and closed with the bluesy Robert Johnson tune, "Come On In My Kitchen" with lots of solid fiddle and banjo.

This also is a band with a very keen sense of humor and good interaction on stage with each other and the audience. Granted this was a small club, holding 135 seats, but the intimacy would have come through on a larger stage also. At this point, the newcomers tended to shy away from getting overly involved. While Eggleston sometimes was accused of being a bit too much on stage, this group works just fine. Liszt has a bit of a wild man edginess in his stage demeanor while DiMario is downright humorous as was O'Donovan. With time, Haas and Clarridge will be woven into the mix. Crooked Still may be "Still Crooked" at this point in their career, but that's a very good thing.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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