Crooked Still

Still Crooked

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This third album, Still Crooked from Crooked Still, is an elegant package of superbly crafted musical styles taking country/folk as the deep foundation and veering off into exhilarating and exciting directions. Starting things off with a haunting version of the late Ola Belle Reed's "Undone in Sorrow," the album begins much like the Youngbloods Elephant Mountain when "Darkness, Darkness" opened that LP almost 40 years prior. Producer Eric Merrill doesn't need drums to propel this quintet, the fiddles a blazin' on a two-and-a-half minute entry entitled "The Absentee," like the equally lively "Poor Ellen Smith" keeps things flowing in a square dance sort of way. The slick 12-page booklet has lyrics to all the titles, "Captain Captain," serious and slow, making for a good read while the music plays. The devotion to the styles embraced is spot-on, a reinvention of Sydney Carter's a cappella "Pharoah" from Rounder Records release of the many Alan Lomax tapes, this one found on the compilation Southern Journey, Vol. 1: Voices from the American South, is stunning -- even more so when you compare it to Carter's -- or take the effort to actually put Sydney Carter's voice as the intro to this string-heavy rendition and hear the tremendous results. Picture the tempo of Lou Reed's "Street Hassle" cut in half, slowed down so that Aoife O'Donovan can pour her emotions all over the track. It's amazing stuff, and it can hardly be called "bluegrass" or be locked into one genre. Where Ray Charles gave us Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music back in 1962, Crooked Still bring those expressions into the new millennium. "Florence" is credited to T.W. Carter and is a more traditional country take, in the fashion of guitarist Peter Calo's excellent Cowboy Song from 2001 where he took traditional songs of the American frontier and recreated them. The dozen songs here, along with a cute 24-second "Theme from the Absentee," form an entertaining textbook including some established -- and some rare -- old songs, as well as originals, tailor-made for a contemporary audience. There's none of the respectful irreverence that labelmates Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem splash all over their Big Old Life album, Crooked Still more intent on studying their roots while exploring and expanding the sounds in a successful...and very satisfying way.

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