New Crooked Still Album Pushes Bluegrass to New Heights

Some Strange Country
Signature Sounds
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Normally I’m not a fan of invented terms such as “nu-folk bluegrass,” but I’ll make an exception for Crooked Still, one of a handful of bands that are taking bluegrass well beyond anything Bill Monroe envisioned. Gone are the nasal vocals and endless virtuoso breakouts of yore; in their stead is the gorgeous voice of lead vocalist Aoife O’Donovan and a rich instrumental tapestry in which Tristan Clarridge’s cello factors as prominently as Greg Liszt’s banjo or Britany Haas’s fiddle. And with a repertoire that includes covers of The Rolling Stones (“You Got the Silver”), Jerry Garcia (“I’m Troubled”), and a Child Ballad filtered through Nick Cave (“Henry Lee”), this is definitely not your Appalachian grandmother’s bluegrass. O’Donovan’s reedy voice is perfect for this lineup in that she opts for intonations that meld rather than stand out distinctly. The manner in which her tones resonate often has the effect of acting as another instrument, one adding a swingy backbeat to arrangements featuring great tension between instruments. This effect can be heard in its edgy glory on “You Were Gone.” This band blows new life into everything it does, even a shopworn standard such as “Golden Vanity.” Crooked Still is a testament to the ways in which tradition is at its best when it synchs to the calendar.

Check out the opening track of their new album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Hbm4XUZ1Xs

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