Some Strange Country
I used to think that I hated country music. Growing up in the ’80s in a rural area meant exposure to the worst of then-current, radio-friendly country music. As the years wore on, the whiny twang became accompanied by the over-produced style of the pop music that was fighting for my disdain in other genres. However, in recent years I have been introduced, via friends (The Dixie Chicks, Home), the internet (various tribute albums), and even Hollywood (O Brother, Where Art Thou, Cold Mountain), to the type of roots country and bluegrass that inspires hope for the genre.
Crooked Still is a quintet from the Northeast continuing that tradition of making me appreciate roots music. Their style reminds me of a cross between bluegrass and traditional Irish/Celtic folk music. The musical talent on display is formidable, with the traditional fiddle (Brittany Haas), banjo (Gregory Liszt), and bass (Corey DiMario) intertwined with a haunting cello performance (Tristan Claridge). The soulful vocals by Aoife O’Donovan float above the music and will stay with you long after the album ends.
Some of the tracks are upbeat, fast-picking banjo showcases (“Locust in the Willow”), while others are sorrowful string-filled numbers (“Distress”). And then there is “Calvary,” a toe-tapper of a tune about the crucifixion of Jesus that has moved more than a few people to tears. Closing out the album is a very original take on the Rolling Stones’ “You Got the Silver.” In total, Some Strange Country is a dreamy trip down a river, sometimes soothing and sometimes tumultuous, and that is the best way to experience it, as a whole. The only complaint I can register is that several of the songs do not seem to have much of an identity in isolation. After the album was over, I wanted to immediately listen to it again, but I rarely wanted to pick out an individual track as a “single.” Of course, with the decline of traditional radio, the need for a single isn’t as great as it once was.
I had never heard of Crooked Still before Some Strange Country, but now I plan to look up the band’s earlier work. I can’t stop listening to this album. Give it a chance and I’ll bet you won’t be able to, either.
Crooked Still: www.somestrangecountry.com