by Elena See, FolkAlley.com ~
What should we call a quintet of musicians who make traditional music and songs brand new again? Alternative folk? String-bandy? Bluegrass-esque? How about…Crooked Still?
Their new album, the group’s fourth, is called Some Strange Country and it is an incredible blend of instruments, vocals, and lyrics. Mellow, rhythmic and totally captivating all at once (take a listen to one of the original tunes, “You Were Gone”), this record once again proves that the point of Crooked Still is, as singer Aoife O’Donovan says, “rediscovering this old music and making it new.”
And they do make it new – with both their original compositions and their (interesting and totally unexpected) cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Got the Silver.” They also continue to make traditional music sound fresh and exciting with their inventive arrangements, arrangements that give each musician a chance to show off some impressive musical skills – check out the fiddle and banjo solos, done by Britney Haas and Gregory Liszt respectively, on “The Golden Vanity.”
While Some Strange Country certainly showcases the incredible musicianship of these five players, it is an especially interesting album because in some ways it’s the product of chance. The quintet was in a recording studio in Virginia, hard at work, when a surprise snowstorm trapped them together for several days longer than anticipated.
“I think that really made something special happen for the last half of the session,” says O’Donovan. “There was no place to go, no way we could leave.”
That forced isolation encouraged what is ultimately a collaborative project at its best – each of the five contributed equally to the album. Several other musicians contributed as well – you’ll hear Tim O’Brien singing just loud enough to create another layer to O’Donovan’s ethereal vocals on “I’m Troubled.”
Some Strange Country and Crooked Still prove, once again, that you can take the traditional and seemingly out-of-date and revitalize it. This is modern music at its most interesting, impressive and thoughtful.